THE headline race on Wednesday brings together the last two Champion Chase winners. Chris Graham and The Voice Of Value investigate.
Cheltenham 15:20 | Queen Mother Champion Chase | Channel 4
I must admit, I’m tremendously excited about this race. Perhaps more than any other at the meeting. There’s intrigue aplenty.
Fighting it out at the top of the betting are the last two winners of this prestigious race. Both on the comeback trail after suffering injury. But one with a much stiffer return to the top than the other.
I’ll start with last year’s winner Sire De Grugy. Part of me feels his performances last season have been under-estimated, although they didn’t reach the heights of Sprinter Sacre the previous year, they were very dominant (four Grade 1’s)
This year he had to wait till February to return after suffering an injury and fell at Newbury in his comeback. Trainer Gary Moore sent him straight back into action two weeks later where he improved vastly by crushing a handicap field giving them chunks of weight.
Negatives for me though are whether that imposing win has left it’s mark on him, and also worth noting 11 of the last 12 defending champions in this race have lost.
The 2013 champion Sprinter Sacre has a bigger mountain to climb for me. He’s run just twice in two years since his win here and his last race saw him finish second to Dodging Bullets in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase.
There are those who feel he only needs to improve a little to recapture his crown. I’m not so sure. Rather than going into depth again I’ll just point you towards my article from last week when I listed a number of reasons why I can’t back him.
Champagne Fever is a talented horse with a great Cheltenham record but with just two wins in his last seven races he’s just not for me. Instead I’ll side with the fourth favourite Dodging Bullets.
This horse has trod the same path as Sire De Grugy last year and has picked up Grade 1 wins in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and Clarence House Chase at Ascot, both key trials.
His Cheltenham record isn’t perfect, but it’s far from disgraceful and he looks progressive to me. I’ll back him to win at 5/1.
Best Bet – Chris Graham
Cheltenham 15:20 – Dodging Bullets to win (5/1 BetBright)
More wisened racing aficionados than me were struggling to find the words to describe the quality of Sprinter Sacre’s wins in 2012 and 2013 at the festival and he was subsequently rated as the best jumps horse in training.
He was quite simply untouchable. He has since had a heart problem and missed last season, but he’s back now and Nicky Henderson seems happy with him.
His prep race was eagerly anticipated by his thousands of fans (including me) and it ended up being something of a damp squib as he finished second to Dodging Bullets after looking like the winner most of the way round.
To be quite frank the ride that Barry Geraghty gave him that day was the most cautious ride I have ever seen a horse given. Had it not been Sprinter Sacre or Geraghty a ride like that could (and should) have attracted a ban for failing to run a horse on its merits.
Horse welfare always comes first of course but he had no intention of winning the race. That was the horse’s first race since his heart problem and he will undoubtedly improve for that run. If he is anything like the old horse he used to be he will win this by five lengths. Let’s hope he does.
It might be a bit cheeky calling a 9/2 shot an each way shout but you’re getting 1/4 odds with BetBright for three places so it’s a bet to nothing the way I see it. I can’t let this lad go unbacked.
His record at the last three festivals is 1st, 1st, 2nd and he is as genuine as they come. He has had a few upsets over fences but his last run when he beat some decent chasers quite comfortably was very encouraging and with the Mullins horses in the form they are in (1,2,3 in the Champion Hurdle – has that EVER been done before?) I have to keep him onside. I’m still with Sprinter Sacre but if he isn’t quite right then Champagne Fever could be the one to pick up the pieces.