The flagship race on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival, the Queen Mother Champion Chase has got plenty of pulses racing this year as once again we await to see just exactly what Sprinter Sacre will do to his opposition.
As things stand the race has cut up to just nine potential runners with three weeks to go, and it is highly likely we will see further defections with some of the current entrants having more suitable engagements elsewhere at The Festival.
A few key stats to have a look at for this race;
30 of the last 31 winners of this race had an SP of no bigger than 11-1.
15 of the last 15 winners had raced no more than four times prior that season.
10 of the last 11 winners had an official rating of 160 and had won at least one Grade 1 chase.
13 of the last 13 winners of the Arkle Trophy to run in this race the following year have all placed at worst.
Network (GER) — Fatima III (FR) (Bayolidaan (FR ))
Notes: Is shaping up to be the flagship horse of the Cheltenham Festival given the dominance in his performances over fences thus far. A winner of the Tingle Creek by 15 lengths, he followed up that performance with a 14 length demolition of the field in the Victor Chandler Chase on his most recent start. Ability wise he looks completely in a different parish to the rivals he is likely to face at The Festival and he is certainly versatile in regards ground after his latest success. Won the Arkle last season seriously impressively from Cue Card and barring an accident he wont be beaten.
Kendor (FR) (12.0f) — Biblique (FR) (Saint Cyrien (FR ) (11.4f))
Notes: Very much an enigma, he is a horse that can often leave you scratching your head after he races. An explosive winner of the Celebration Chase last April at Sandown many were touting him to be a legitimate challenger to Sprinter Sacre this season but the Nicky Henderson swiftly put those thoughts to bed with a demolition job in the Tingle Creek, Sanctuaire certainly went off too quick in front that day though but showed little resistance when Sprinter Sacre loomed ominously upsides and eventually was mugged for second on the run-in by Kumbeshwar. His next run left further questions as after leading throughout he was ridden and headed 4 from home, but showed something he had never done before and battled back to regain the initiative 3 from home before powering away to a facile wide-margin success, reversing form handsomely with Kumbeshwar in the process. A change of tactics were introduced in the Victor Chandler Chase and this time Sanctuaire was ridden with more restraint, he was never really travelling with his usual zest and although a brief effort into third at the third last suggested he might run a place, he weakened out of it after the second last and was a laboured and disappointing fourth.
Beneficial (14.3f) — Suez Canal (FR) (Exit To Nowhere (USA) (10.1f))
Notes: It looks like this Noel Meade trained gelding is going to have another attempt in this race after finishing a detached fifth last year. He was third in the Arkle in 2011 so has got previous form over the course and distance but he hasn’t looked as good as he once was for a couple of seasons now, and a repeat of his performance last season will not be good enough here.
Pistolet Bleu (IRE) (11.2f) — Jennie Dun (IRE) (Mandalus (12.3f))
Notes: As things stand he looks more likely to be rerouted towards the Ryanair Chase, but that appears still open to discussion as the horse features prominently in both markets. It wouldn’t surprise me if connections had a change of heart once this field cuts up further and decided that place money in the Champion Chase is better than potentially nothing in the Ryanair Chase. A high-class individual he has won an Arkle Chase, a Champion Chase and was second in the race last year in a race surrounded by controversy. He is a very likeable sort and looks the most realistic threat to Sprinter Sacre if connections decide to go this route – however he won’t get that monster off the bridle so looks booked for second at best.
Tiraaz (USA) — Trinity Gale (IRE) (Strong Gale (12.5f))
Notes: Another runner from the Nicky Henderson stable who is prominent in the betting for the Ryanair Chase, and with Sprinter Sacre in the line-up it looks likely that Finian’s will be going over the longer distance. Second in the Arkle two years ago, he made amends last season by taking the scalp of Sizing Europe pulling away up the run-in in the 2012 Champion Chase. He went on to an easy success in the Melling Chase thereafter and is unexposed over the longer trip, so looks unlikely he’ll be rerouted back here.
Alflora (IRE) — Poussetiere Deux (FR) (Garde Royale (11.2f))
Notes: Looks like sticking to this distance for the time being despite his pedigree suggesting he wants much further. He was a fast and late finisher in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury the weekend in a race they went slow early, but prior to that the faster exchanges of the Kempton race left him a spent force in the straight after looking likely to take Sanctuaire four from home. He took an absolutely crunching fall in this race last year and generally his form falls some way short of what will be required to get involved here.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Wicked Crack (IRE) (King´s Ride (14.0f))
Notes: Connections still appear to be undecided where to send Cue Card, and his run at the weekend in the Ascot Chase looks likely to decide which engagement he takes up next month. The exchanges suggest he’ll be heading for the longer distances of the Ryanair Chase, and to be honest that looks to be his better chance of success than taking on Sprinter Sacre here. No match for that rival in the Arkle Chase last season, he ran gallantly in defeat to take second but with the horse that beat him so convincingly that day seemingly has improved further this season it presents him with an impossible task.
Somersby is due to run at Ascot this weekend in the Betfair Chase but looks likely to take up an engagement in this race. In truth he looks to be only taking on a supporting role as his form in the last two Festivals leave him with plenty to do here, and neither his fifth placed effort in the Champion Chase 2011, or his seventh in the Ryanair Chase last season suggest he will trouble the judge here.
Tataniano is an intriguing prospect. A horse that benefits from quicker ground and has been sparingly used with just 7 starts since January 2010. Seemingly injured after his handicap win off a mark of 160 three starts ago he has made a fairly lacklustre return to action this season but has excuses for both runs. His first run was his first run back after a year off and trying to shoulder top weight off a mark of 163 against decent horses was always going to be tough, and his next start was on ground softer than ideal over a trip further than he wants.
Mail De Bievre isn’t currently entered but could well end up coming in this direction and it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on back down in distance but won’t be good enough to trouble the more likely types one wouldn’t have thought.
There is little point beating around the bush here, as clearly the form suggests this should be little more than an exercise gallop for SPRINTER SACRE who has looked in a different league to his rivals since taking to fences.
I couldn’t have been more impressed with a novice chaser last campaign and I genuinely believe he is one of the greatest steeplechasers I have ever seen, and fully expect him to destroy a handful of rivals.
Of the remainder it would depend what Sanctuaire turns up on the day, but with him likely to be taken on at the head of affairs it wouldn’t surprise me were he to down tools.
The one potential bet could be a possible each-way play at 100-1 about Tataniano (3 places 1/4 odds) on the hope that Sizing Europe, Finian’s Rainbow and Cue Card all head for the Ryanair Chase it would leave a potential of 6 runners and with Realt Dubh looking past it, Somersby better at Ascot and hasn’t shown form at Cheltenham for a while now, the mental state of Sanctuaire fairly fragile if not allowed his own way, it very quickly becomes down to around 3 or 4 with chances. One of those Wishfull Thinking has shown a liking for a slow-pace in the early part of races and folded tamely at Kempton when they went quick early two starts ago, and generally speaking they seem to go an honest gallop in the Champion Chase.
In the interests of the article could I allow myself to tip Sprinter Sacre at 2-7 even though he is the most likely winner of the race?
I think if Sanctuaire is let loose on a lead he is likely to go off fairly quick, if Tataniano can slot in-behind him in second and conserve his energy behind Sanctuaire he could well plod on for a place. Granted he won’t be good enough to get within the same county as Sprinter Sacre but if the pace is honest it could potentially draw the sting out of Wishfull Thinking which would leave potentially just Sprinter Sacre and Sanctuaire to beat, the latter of which is likely to fold up under pressure when passed by Sprinter Sacre as that one goes further into the distance.
The last three years have been run on Good ground, and on left-handed tracks on good ground against single figure fields over fences, Tataniano has a record of (11). These two victories including a Grade 1 success at Aintree beating Osana by 11 lengths, and a handicap chase win at Chepstow off a mark of 160 easily by 8 lengths. You have to be a good horse to be winning handicap chases off a mark of 160, let alone by 8 lengths and I think he is worth chancing a small bet on at the triple-figure price.
Obviously I fully expect Sprinter Sacre to readily account for the field, but I’m striking this bet with a view to defections of the more prominent types to the Ryanair, Somersby wouldn’t be certain to go to Cheltenham either so we could end up with around 5 runners of which we have every chance of making the frame for reasons stated above. We shall see!
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That’s what I think! What do you think? Leave a comment below…