Champagne Fever can excel over two miles in this Cheltenham Festival showdown
There seems to be mixed views over the return of Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House Chase and working out what he’s going to do next is the key to finding the winner of this year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Having had a year out due to heart problems, it was only natural that he would need his first run back at Ascot and the fact he got tired late on should come as no surprise. For much of the race he travelled and jumped with much of the elan to which he had become accustomed and his rider Barry Geraghty was clearly at pains not to give him too hard a race. And let’s not forget, the winner Dodging Bullets is a bloody good horse who is very much on an upward curve.
The flip side of the coin being the old Sprinter Sacre, the one who earned the rating 188, would have made mincemeat of the 165-rated runner-up, and the close proximity of the third Twinlight also suggests he ran well below his best. The fact he found nothing when asked to go and won the race is also concerning and you also have to consider whether the bounce factor will apply at Cheltenham, which will be his second run back after a long lay-off.
I’m going to take the opinion that we may have seen the best days of the horse and he simply can’t be entertained at the 3/1 on offer with race sponsors Betway. Nor am I interested in the 9/2 on last year’s brilliant winner Sire De Grugy, who has also been on the sidelines. The vibes about his physical health have been positive of late and I’d love to see him come back as good as ever, but I’d rather back him at a shorter price once he has come through his intended prep run at Newbury.
That opens up the race considerably and I’m also going to take a view on Dodging Bullets. A weak finisher in the past whose form tended to tail off after Christmas, he looks transformed this season and his Tingle Creek success bodes well for his chances, with the last nine winners of that Sandown race finishing 1F61P8211. However, Paul Nichols’ charge ahs yet to finish in the first three in three runs at the Cheltenham Festival, and had to settle for third best behind Uxizandre and Simply Ned when last seen at the track in November. Besides, he’s no bigger than 5/1 now and I can’t believe he’ll be shorter on the day.
It’s good to see that several firms are now “non-runner no-bet” (NRNB) on the Queen Mother, as well as the other three championship races at the festival. That means we can get stuck into those horses who could be rerouted elsewhere, with CHAMPAGNE FEVER being a prime example. Connections have been running him over further than two miles this term including in the King at George at Kempton, where he patently failed to stay. He was under pressure when falling in a Grade 2 over 2m4f at Thurles last time and, having come out of that none the worse, connections are now seriously considering dropping him back to the minimum, rather than go for what might be an easier Ryanair (2m5f).
And that would be the right decision in my mind as here is a horse who last March came within a head of winning three consecutive 2m championship races at the festival, his Arkle second coming after wins in the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Previous at the Festival is worth its weight in gold and Champagne Fever already has two crocks of that (and one of silver). Providing he turns up in this race – NRNB takes care of any worries there – I think he has a massive chance and while those greedy bookmakers have been pinching his price in the last few days, I still think he’s a bet at the 7/1 on offer – you can get a point longer without the NRNB concession.
As for the rest, Al Ferof is another who could benefit from the return to two miles, though I’d expect Champagne Fever to have his measure over it, while you can make a case for the bold jumping Uxizandre if you ignore his tame effort at Leopardstown last time. Of the bigger-priced horses, Hidden Cyclone could reward each-way support at 25/1. He appeared to get outstayed in last year’s Ryanair and does have decent form over the minimum, including when second to Sire De Grugy on last season’s Clarence House. But he’s another to back NRNB as connections might still go the 2m5f route.
2pts Champagne Fever @ 7/1 bet365 (NRNB)
33/1 Aubusson can rule the World