The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the pinnacle of the two-mile chase division’s season. Some absolutely top class horses have won this over the years, notably Badsworth Boy who won three successive renewals in the mid 1980’s.
Moscow Flyer and Master Minded have since added their name to the hall of fame with two victories a piece since the turn of the millennium, and before those Viking Flagship won back-to-back renewals in the mid 90’s.
A few key stats to have a look at for this race;
- 33 of the last 34 winners of this race had an SP of no bigger than 11-1.
- 15 of the last 16 winners had raced no more than four times prior that season.
- 12 of the last 13 winners had an official rating of 160 and had won at least one Grade 1 chase.
- 14 of the last 14 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: One of the greatest chasers of all time in his pomp and his succession of devastating performances earned him the nickname of the “black aeroplane” as rival by rival was smashed into submission by the gelded son of Network. He suffered heart problems when pulled up in December 2013, problems which kept him off until January 2015 where he made his return in the Clarence House Chase. He was said to have looked as fit as possibly you could get but couldn’t hold off the challenge of Dodging Bullets who was well on top by the finish. The vet found Sprinter Sacre had suffered a low-level bleed from the nose during the race, and whilst not sufficient enough to have affected his performance as such on the day, it is worrying heading forward to the big one next month.
SIRE DE GRUGY
My Risk (FR) — Hirlish (FR) (Passing Sale (FR ) (12.0f))
Notes: Dominated the two-mile chase division last season and probably hasn’t got the credit he deserved with the absence of Sprinter Sacre making the division seemingly below-par. His effort when winning the Champion Chase last season was a high 160’s performance on my ratings, and a repeat of that will have him in the mix here. He unseated on his comeback from injury at Newbury the last day, but the lack of race sharpness probably attributed to that as he hadn’t jumped with the usual fluency we are accustomed to seeing from him. He atoned for that defeat with an excellent weight-carrying performance at Chepstow earlier on today, giving away over 20lbs+ to fair rivals and looks on course to play a real hand in this race once more.
Dubawi (IRE) (9.4f) — Nova Cyngi (USA) (Kris S (USA) (11.3f))
Notes: Has returned a much better horse this season for Paul Nicholls, which in part can be attributed for the re-application of the tongue-tie which failed to have the desired effect over hurdles earlier on in his career. Winner of the Tingle Creek at Sandown on his return, he followed that up by handing out a beating to Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House at Ascot in January and heads to The Festival at the very top of his game, and for which he rates a very solid proposition for Team Ditcheat.
Stowaway — Forever Bubbles (IRE) (Roselier (FR ) (16.0f))
Notes: Has yet to hit the heights expected of him over fences but is a horse that saves his very best form for Cheltenham. Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2012 for Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins, the gelded son of Stowaway followed up that success with a superb victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle a year later – that performance rates the best renewal in the last 10 years, and the second and third from that race have proven top class over hurdles in recent years. His Arkle second was run in a race run almost 2.5 seconds quicker than the Champion Chase, although in the Arkle they carried 6lb less than Sire De Grugy carried to victory in the latter but a return to that level of form puts him bang in the mix here.
Great Pretender (IRE) — Emmylou Du Berlais (FR) (Kadalko (FR ))
Notes: Has often looked very talented throughout his career but his quirks have been there for all to see. The switch to more forceful and prominent tactics in his races have clearly brought out this best in him in small fields this campaign, but you have to question exactly how effective those tactics will be against a much higher level of opposition with more competition for the lead. He looked good when winning at Newbury the last day but once Sire De Grugy unseated at the second in the home straight the race practically fell apart. He no doubt comes into this with fair claims but I question exactly what he has achieved so far and thus looks under-priced to me.
Somersby has been a grand servant to connections over the years and will run his usual race, but lacks the speed and class required to win this and isn’t getting any younger at the age of eleven. Would become the second horse in the last 30 years to win this race aged above 10 (Moscow Flyer is currently the only horse).
Sizing Europe another superb servant to connections, he won this race in 2011 and finished runner-up in both 2012 and 2013, and at the age of 13 it is almost impossible to see him winning this.
Hidden Cyclone ran such a good race in last year’s Ryanair Chase to suggest that dropping back to this minimum trip around here would be of serious interest. Personally speaking I think he lacks the required class to win at this kind of level and at the age of 10 the starts aren’t exactly in his favour either.
Simply Ned has shown he is worthy of pitching in at this level but on all known for so far he has plenty on his plate to mix it with those at the head of the market. A good second to Uxizandre at Cheltenham in November, he was ridden over cautiously at Leopardstown over the Christmas period to finish third behind Twinlight and can be rated better than the seven length defeat – that said it still leaves him with improvement to find.
Uxizandre looked a horse with real potential for this trip when taking the Schloer Chase over C&D in November but things haven’t gone to plan on his most recent two starts and it looks most unlikely he’ll bounce back to take this prize.
Balder Succes was regarded by many as a great each-way bet at the start of the season with Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre taking up most of the market, however he has found his footing since stepping up in trip after disappointing in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and then in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid. Would hold an each-way claim if reverting back to this trip but looks more likely to head for the Ryanair Chase now you’d think.
Don Cossack has looked the real finished article this season and still remains in the betting for this contest, but looks another who is to head for the more suitable Ryanair Chase.
Twinlight has been running well all season over in Ireland and is a genuine graded class chaser, but he is held by both Dodging Bullets and Sprinter Sacre on their Ascot Chase running in January and it’s hard to see him making the frame here.
An open and competitive renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and one in which should provide us with a thrilling spectacle as we see these group of high-class chasers soaring over the larger obstacles over the minimum distance.
Had Sprinter Sacre not had his health problems this would be little more than another expected romp for the once dominant black aeroplane, however he didn’t look the same horse when let down on his return to the track in January.
Sire De Grugy ran up an excellent sequence last season with the absence of Sprinter Sacre and as such his performances have been somewhat glossed over, with many in the racing press opting to compare him to the excellence we saw from Sprinter Sacre during that dominant couple of seasons. He looked as good as ever on his return from injury, and put down his marker with an excellent weight-carrying performance at Chepstow this afternoon.
Dodging Bullets would be the pick on form for this contest, winning both the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Grade 1’s this season but his profile suggests to me a possible right-handed preference lurking in there somewhere and has twice failed to produce the goods on the big day at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.
Whatever way I look at it though I cannot get away from the possibility of CHAMPAGNE FEVER finally unlocking his potential on the biggest stage of all, and with a return to Cheltenham on the horizon he can add to what should be a memorable week for Messrs Walsh and Mullins. He was ridden very forcefully in last year’s Arkle which as I’ve already alluded two was almost 2.5secs quicker than the Champion Chase won by Sire De Grugy. Although you have to factor in weight to that performance (6lb more carried in Champion Chase) he still comes out favourably, and the record of horses who finished in the frame in the previous seasons Arkle Chase holds well in this contest.