The event all of the top two mile chasers have their seasons tailored around, the Champion Chase has thrown up some truly outstanding winners over the years. Jessica Harrington’s top class Moscow Flyer set the early standard after the turn of the millennium with two exhilarating successes in 2003 & 2005 – the latter as an 11-year-old – but incredibly there have been two even better winners in the subsequent decade, namely the dominant duo Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre.
Sprinter’s jaw dropping effort in 2013 earned him a mark of 188 – ratings suggesting he’d dead heat with acknowledged superstar Moscow giving him 8lbs – and despite now being a full 18lbs lower on official figures he’s still only 5/1 at best for what would be a spectacular resurrection. Barring accidents the two most recent winners of the race will also line up in March, although it’s fair to say that Sire De Grugy & Dodging Bullets would require a fence head start in order to keep tabs with the likes of Moscow, Azertyuiop, Sprinter & Master Minded at their best.
Cheltenham 2016 – Champion Chase
A few key stats to have a look at for this race;
- 34 of the last 35 winners of this race had an SP of no bigger than 11-1.
- 16 of the last 17 winners had raced no more than four times prior that season.
- 13 of the last 14 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.
The Odds-On Favourite
Un De Sceaux
Denham Red (FR) — Hotesse De Sceaux (FR) (April Night (FR))
Notes: 16 runs, 14 wins, two non-completions is the record Willie Mullins’ catch me if you can star will take into the Festival, with his two non-completions coming in races where he was sent off 1/8 & 1/4 to see off inferior rivals where surely staying on all fours would’ve sufficed. Bookmakers were impressed enough with the Arkle winner’s swatting aside of Sire De Grugy in the Clarence House to make him odds-on for Wednesday’s feature, and that seems fair enough considering regular partner Ruby Walsh appears able to ride Un De Sceaux in a more controlled manner than in his tearaway novice days. The form of the Clarence House has been rated as Un De Sceaux’s best performance yet, which in all honesty doesn’t say an awful lot for his previous opponents, but with the Champion Chase lacking in any kind of depth the eight-year-old will go to post as by far the most likely winner. Special Tiara may attempt to take him on up front but it’s likely to be to that one’s detriment.
Verdict: Promised to be top class for some time – probably won’t need to be that good in order to win this.
Network (GER) — Fatima III (FR) (Bayolidaan (FR))
Notes: It’s difficult to know exactly how to weigh up Sprinter Sacre. The now ten-year-old should have spent the previous two seasons making a mockery of Grade 1 fields in a weak two mile division, but after being pulled up with a dodgy ticker at Sandown in December 2013 his absence denied the racing public what should’ve been the peak years of a genuine superstar. Indeed, for long periods it looked as if he’d never produce anything within stones of his obscene best ever again, and even after his emphatic win in the Shloer at Cheltenham (getting weight from horses he’d have moon walked past in his heyday) there were question marks about his resolution in a finish, questions which could be said to have been answered when he knuckled down to beat Sire De Grugy in the Desert Orchid. Unless UDS really is something exceptional that old standard won’t need to be reached here, but on a simplistic line through Sire De Grugy it is likely Sprinter Sacre will still need to build on the highly encouraging efforts he’s put in this term if he’s to give the Wednesday crowd an unforgettable afternoon.
Verdict: Would be the story of the meeting should he win, but not the horse of old and may now need UDS to be below par.
The Former Champions
Dubawi (IRE) — Nova Cyngi (USA) (Kris S (USA))
Notes: A Dubawi out of a mare who is a half to the dam of Light Shift & Shiva – the Champion Chase would’ve been one of the last races on the mind of Frankie Dettori when he bred this now eight-year-old! A rapidly progressive winner off 89 on the flat for Andy Oliver, Dodging Bullets did the race double of running in a Triumph & a Supreme for current handler Paul Nicholls, but it was in his second season over fences that he really started to thrive, utilising his flat speed to win three successive Grade 1s including the big one at the Festival. Twice runner-up to Dodging Bullets was the highly likable but ultimately limited Somersby, perhaps helping to put the strength of the form into perspective – he was rated a comparatively modest 171 after winning the Champion Chase. His comeback after 11 months off the track was considered encouraging in some quarters. Legless in the market all day, the gelding travelled well enough to a point, but was ultimately beaten fully three fences out by a 155 horse (albeit a fairly progressive one) in Top Gamble. It’s hard to see how the champion chaser being thrashed by a horse beaten twice off 153 can be considered overly positive, and despite Nicholls’ comments about him coming on plenty for it, he’ll need a major leap forward to be competitive.
Verdict: The current champion will need to find something extra in his locker to compete for top honours.
Sire De Grugy
My Risk (FR) — Hirlish (FR) (Passing Sale (FR))
Notes: It’s difficult to be too critical of the likable Sire De Grugy. The now ten-year-old added a second Tingle Creek (a truly desperate renewal it has to be said!) to a CV that includes a Clarence House Chase, a Celebration Chase and a Champion Chase in what was undoubtedly a low key period for two-mile chasers, a haul that saw him rated 3lbs higher than his current 169 at his peak. Apparently better with a bit of give in the ground, he was expected to give Un De Sceaux his first serious examination at Ascot, yet the market suggested it would be one way traffic and “they” duly got it spot on with Sire De Grugy never looking likely to make a true race of it. His trainer Gary Moore sounded somewhat downhearted afterwards in accepting that his horse was unlikely to turn the tables in March and a place would be considered a worthy achievement.
Verdict: Mopped up in some below-par Grade 1s, no obvious reason he’ll get closer to Un De Sceaux but a live place contender unless it’s rattling underfoot.
Robin Des Champs (FR) — Gazelle De Mai (FR) (Dom Pasquini (FR))
Notes: We won’t waste too much time on a horse who is about 20s on to run on the Friday, but Vautour is the one horse who really would make a mildly disappointing race into a fascinating one. There are some who would have you believe that this horse would win a Nunthorpe, a National and everything else in between – it’s a shame he can’t be turned out on every day of the Festival.
Verdict: Hats will be eaten if he’s in the starting line up
The Outside Chances
Kayf Tara — Special Choice (IRE) (Bob Back (USA))
Notes: Possibly should’ve been awarded the Tingle Creek after Sire De Grugy took him out mid-air in the style of an overly enthusiastic winger cleaning out a full back at Twickenham. Even then, and with a victory over Sprinter Sacre in the bag, there are still concerns about whether a rating of 169 flatters the number two Irish hope. Allowed to do his own thing in front last year when a tidy enough third, he’ll likely be burned off from the drop of the flag by his compatriot Un De Sceaux this time around, and more patient tactics may not be to his liking. Very talented and apparently still progressing, a lot could depend on how the race is run.
Verdict: 12/1 quotes don’t make too much appeal when dominating just won’t be possible
Oscar (IRE) — Marble Sound (IRE) (Be My Native (USA))
Notes: Bizarrely his master trainer seems determined to ensure he doesn’t run in this race, even mentioning a possible trip to Japan instead. Mullins probably realises better than anyone just what he’s up against in Un De Sceaux, although even then it’s surprising how little interest he has in running a Grade 1 & three-time Grade 2 winning two mile chaser in the premier two mile chase. There has been a bit more strength to his price on the machine of late, and with NRNB now available with every firm, his price is much more appealing than several shorter than him.
Verdict: Would be strong on his chances of finishing in the three, but he’ll likely be having a snooze in his box instead
Milan — Hazel´s Tisrara (IRE) (Mandalus)
Notes: A lot was expected of this sizeable Milan gelding after four wins from five as a novice chaser, especially as he completed his season by capturing the Aintree Grade 1 from the Arkle second God’s Own. The similarities with Un De Sceaux pretty much end there – Sizing Granite was raised to a mark of 154 for a driven-out one length success in the North West, whereas Un De Sceaux’s new official figure was 168 – with God’s Own putting in a moderate round at Aintree and still finishing within a length. In two appearances this season Sizing Granite has done little to put himself in the QMCC picture, being beaten a head on his return in November by Willie Mullins’ 43rd best inmate, then in trouble at halfway in unsuitable heavy ground at Leopardstown over Christmas. Rated 152, he clearly has plenty to find, and it would take a rather large leap of faith to hope the potential better ground will help him improve that much.
Verdict: Needs a monumental turn around on this season’s form
Oscar (IRE) — Dantes Term (IRE) (Phardante (FR))
Notes: A few very useful performances stand out in God’s Own’s career so far, one of which was his 2nd to Un De Sceaux over C&D in last year’s Arkle. That more than fair effort – probably his best on the face of it – would however still leave him with 6L to find with the current clear jolly, which is reflected in his current price of 25/1. It’s some time ago that the now eight-year-old put in big performance to win the Haldon Gold Cup off 155 as a novice, but his performances have consistently improved in the spring, with a Grade 1 novice win and two places at the level at the Spring festivals, so progress from an eight-length defeat by Josses Hill on soft ground should be expected next Wednesday. It would be a huge surprise should that improvement lead to Tom George’s horse beating an upright Un De Sceaux, but he’s not without hope of making the three.
Verdict: A spring improver, 2 1/2m & soft ground wouldn’t have been ideal last time. Place prospects aren’t bad.
Currently there’s a feeling that Un De Sceaux is not currently at the stage where he’d be up to beating the Moscow Flyers and Master Mindeds of days gone by. A major talent with an exciting way of running, he is however clearly the one to beat in what’s an intriguing rather than a particularly deep renewal of this race.
Sprinter Sacre back in the winner’s enclosure would surely eclipse any other story the 2016 Festival could throw up, and it’s quite incredible that he could regress by probably a stone or more and still be 4/1 for a race of this nature, considerably shorter than more recent former winners Dodging Bullets & Sire De Grugy.
Both of those mentioned haven’t looked Champion Chasers in recent times, and with the NRNB concession it may be best to side with FELIX YONGER at 16/1. Although now a 10-year-old he’s been as good – if not better – than ever this season and with one defeat over the wrong trip since December 2014 there’s the possibility there’s a bit more to squeeze out. With only one horse ahead of him in the market progressing, it’s worth taking a chance that he’s up to this task.