The 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase looks a weaker renewal now that last year’s 19 length winner Sprinter Sacre has been ruled out. Dubbed the ‘Black Aeroplane’, Nicky Henderson’s superstar will be missed and we can only hope he returns fit and healthy next year. However, what the race now lacks in quality it makes up for in interest. What seemed like a one horse race until relatively recently has turned into an intriguing betting race where cases can be made for many.
Sire De Grugy
My Risk (FR) — Hirlish (FR) (Passing Sale (FR ) (12.0f))
Notes: A hugely improved horse, winning 4 out of 5 starts so far this season. Amongst those victories were grade 1 wins in the Tingle Creek at Sandown (Captain Conan third) and the Clarence House Chase at Ascot (main rival Somersby an early faller), impressing with some huge leaps on the latter occasion. Between those victories came a win in the grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton where Sprinter Sacre was pulled up. The only disappointment of his season so far has come at Cheltenham over this distance where he failed to give 10lbs to Kid Kassidy, although he was later reported to have had the wrong shoes fitted pre-race. That is the second time he has been beaten at Cheltenham and there are definite fears about his ability to handle this track. It was interesting that Gary Moore sent him for a racecourse gallop at Plumpton last week which boasts similar characteristics to Cheltenham (left handed, undulating) in an effort to prepare him for this. On recent form he is the best 2 mile chaser behind Sprinter Sacre and he is a worthy favourite, despite concerns about the track.
Arvico (FR) — Daraka (FR) (Akarad (FR ) (10.8f))
Notes: Another with question marks over his ability to handle this track. The Willie Mullins trained 9 year old has won 7 out of 10 starts over fences, including 4 grade ones. He has won 3 from 4 so far this season with his most recent run ending in a smooth victory in grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown (sent off 2/7F). His one disappointment this season came in the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown where he was beaten by Benefficient. It is possible that he didn’t take to hold up tactics that day (usually leads or races prominently) but there is a trend is his form that suggests he is not as good going left handed (1/5 under rules) as he is right handed (8/10). Connections are adamant that going left handed won’t be a problem but his record is there for all to see and he has already twice been beaten round Cheltenham.
Kingsalsa (USA) (6.1f) — Lavandou (Sadler´s Wells (USA) (11.4f))
Notes: A progressive novice chaser last year, winning 4 out of 5 starts. He began with a win over course and distance (beating Sire De Grugy into second) before taking his first grade 1 novice chase with a defeat of the useful Hinterland at Sandown, again at two miles. He stepped up to 2m5f for the Scilly Isles and got there in the dying strides to beat Third Intention but then faded late in last year’s Jewson at Cheltenham (hit 1.36 in-running). He then went to Aintree and won over 2m4f. Nicky Henderson has described his best trip as “something of an enigma” and that pretty much sums up his chasing career so far. He faded tamely on his reappearance behind Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek and was later found to have low levels of potassium. However, he travelled like a really good horse for most of the race that day and he has reportedly been schooling extremely well at home since. Nicky Henderson has been quick to point out that he would have run with or without Sprinter Sacre and he remains a horse of some potential.
Beneficial (14.4f) — Supreme Breda (IRE) (Supreme Leader (12.4f))
Notes: Sprang a surprise in last year’s Jewson, battling back gamely to win having been headed. His form since that win has been a little uninspiring but he recently bounced back to win the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown, beating Arvika Ligeonniere and Sizing Europe in the process. Two miles may be a little on the sharp side for him these days but he would be a big danger if turning up, although the Ryanair seems to be his preferred target.
Dom Alco (FR) — Maralta (FR) (Altayan)
Notes: Won the 2011 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, beating Spriter Sacre and Cue Card in the process. He ended his 2011/12 campaign in slightly disappointing fashion when well beaten at Cheltenham and Aintree but returned to form when slamming rivals in the Paddy Power Chase at Cheltenham on his reappearance the following season. He was then off the track for a year before returning to easily win a 2 runner Amlin Chase before running a strange race in the King George, seemingly becoming outpaced and then plugging on for third. His latest run at Newbury is probably best forgotten as the ground was bottomless but it seems like 2m4f is probably his best trip and he is likely to run in the Ryanair.
Pistolet Bleu (IRE) (11.2f) — Jennie Dun (IRE) (Mandalus (12.3f))
Notes: A brilliant horse over the years with six grade 1 chase wins to his name including an Arkle and a Champion Chase. His course and distance form figures read 1122 and the last of those runs came in last year’s Champion Chase where he found only Sprinter Sacre too good. Having a horse that acts around Cheltenham is a huge plus but he is now a 12 year old and hasn’t raced with much of his usual enthusiasm recently. He won his reappearance but has then been a bit below par in two runs since, falling away tamely in the Dial-A-Bet Chase on the latter occasion having set a strong early pace. It is possible that he will rediscover some of his old spark returned to this venue and his trainer reports him to be in good form but you just get the feeling that something with younger legs may just get the better of him here.
Panoramic (9.7f) — Before Royale (FR) (Dauphin Du Bourg (FR))
Notes: Fourth in last year’s Jewson (just ahead of Captain Conan), Module has made a promising start to his chasing career and has 3 wins from 7 starts to his name. He ran a good race on his reappearance to be just denied by Somersby in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, doing well to recover after a 4th fence blunder. He was staying on that day and it was thought that the step up in trip would suit in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on his next start but he was well beaten into fourth. He then dropped back in trip for the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury and rallied well to get the better of promising novice Dodging Bullets. The ground was heavy that day and he probably benefitted from the extra test of stamina. Tom George says he will improve for better ground but he probably wants further than this and the betting would suggest that his preference is also the Ryanair, for which he also holds an entry.
Kid Kassidy looked impressive on his seasonal reappearance when beating Sire De Grugy over course and distance, although he was receiving 10lbs that day and will have to race off level weights here. He then ran a lifeless race at Leopardstown and in truth he is a bit in and out. He ran well to be second in last year’s Grand Annual but that form is not particularly strong in this context and he probably has a bit to find to get involved here.
Baily Green was largely progressive last year (albeit in a slightly lower grade) and ran really well to finish second to Simonsig in last year’s Arkle at odds of 33/1. His form has been a little patchy since and his best effort this season probably came when runner up to Texas Jack at Thurles in January when he finished just ahead of the returning Last Instalment. It’s probably best to ignore his latest spin over hurdles and no doubt his shrewd trainer will have him spot on for the big day, although he may just come up a little short in this company.
Alderwood is 2 from 2 at the Cheltenham festival, with wins to his name in the 2012 County Hurdle and last year’s Grand Annual. Thomas Mullins seems to have found the key to getting this horse ready to run his best races come festival time and that is a huge plus. However, Alderwood has been off the racecourse since suffering a hairline fracture to his pastern in October and it would take a huge effort to bring him back to win in this company after an absence and even at his best he may come up short here.
Hinterland is a second season novice having not managed to get his head in front last season. He seems to have improved leaps and bounds this season with 2 wins already to his name, taking the notable scalp of Grandouet each time. It should be pointed out that Grandouet fell on the first occasion but he was beaten fair and square next time and Hinterland must possess plenty of ability to beat a horse of that quality. However being a novice it is more likely that he will contest the Arkle and so can probably be overlooked.
The 10 year old Somersby has run some excellent races in his time, most notably winning the 2012 Victor Chandler Chase from subsequent Champion Chase winner Finian’s Rainbow and Al Ferof. He started the season in great style winning the Haldon Gold Cup but has since been put in his place by Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek and then he unseated Dominic Elsworth in the Clarence House Chase before the race had begun to really develop. He has some decent course form with a second and three thirds to his name from 7 starts at Cheltenham, including a ¾ length defeat by Sizing Europe in the 2010 Arkle. However he is probably not quite the force of old and needs good ground to be seen to his best.
Henry De Bromhead also saddles Special Tiara, a 7 year old who was surprise winner at Aintree last season having bypassed Cheltenham. He began this season by unseating at Naas before running a solid race behind Kid Cassidy and Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham. He has since been well beaten by Arvika Ligeonniere at Punchestown on heavy ground and will probably need to improve to get involved here, as well as appearing to require a sound surface.
Wishful Thinking has plenty of course form here and looked better than ever when he won a competitive 2m5f handicap here last time. However this trip is probably on the sharp side for him and he also holds a Ryanair entry.
Savello and Astracad have a lot to find on ratings and shouldn’t be good enough to feature in this company.
A race in which there are question marks over all the main contenders. Sire De Grugy is a worthy favourite and brings the best form into the race. However with lingering doubts about his ability to handle the track, he makes little appeal at the 9/4 that is currently on offer. Arvika Ligeonniere seems better going right handed and the likes of Benefficient, Al Ferof and Module will probably only run here if the ground is bottomless. Old boys Sizing Europe and Somersby cannot be dismissed lightly and may be good enough to run into a place but the most interesting contender here is surely Captain Conan. There are doubts over the trip for him but he has a course and distance win to his name and travelled like the best horse before tiring late in his reappearance in the Tingle Creek. He has been absent since but has been the subject of positive work reports and makes plenty of appeal at the widely available 5/1. With several of the main contenders likely to contend the Ryanair instead it is not difficult to imagine Captain Conan being sent off a few points shorter on the day and he looks set to run a huge race.