What are the best bets for the Champion Chase?
15:30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase, 2m
Last year’s 1-2-3: Dodging Bullets (9/2), Somersby (33/1), Special Tiara (18/1) – 9 ran.
Last year’s Arkle Trophy winner Un De Sceaux is set to go off as the shortest-priced jolly over the four days and deservedly so. Willie Mullins’ star two-miler barely touched a twig when winning here 12 months ago, making most for a six-length victory over God’s Own, and he’s looked just as good if not better this term, with his defeat of Sire De Grugy in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January by far the most persuasive piece of two-mile form on offer. That took his career record to 14 wins from 16 starts (5-7 over fences) and his only defeats have come as a result of falls when in command on very testing ground and on his seasonal reappearance. With a clear round here, he is surely going to be hard to catch from the front. Top price: 8/11 William Hill (NRNB).
Who can stop him?
The last three winners of this race – Dodging Bullets, Sire De Grugy (2014) and Sprinter Sacre (2013) – are all back for another crack and they pretty much fill the next three places in the betting. But the question for punters is: are they as good now as when they won it? Probably not, although it’s expecting a lot of Sprinter Sacre to reach the same dizzy heights of his 2012-13 season when he won four other Grade 1s in addition to this race. He’s not been quite the same horse since but his 14-length defeat of Somersby at Cheltenham in November was more like it and sparked emotional scenes, and his renaissance continued with a narrow defeat of a rejuvenated Sire De Grugy at Kempton when last in action over Christmas. Should he come down to the last travelling well and upsides Un De Sceaux, we are all in for a treat in what is traditionally one of the most exciting races at the festival.
Sire De Grugy is only marginally less popular and few would begrudge his trainer Gary Moore a festival winner after some terrible luck with his injured stars, but even the ten-year-old’s most ardent fans would agree he’s up against it, having seen the backside of Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux on his last two starts. He will be run his race, nonetheless, and he has less questions to answer than the defending champion, who was soundly thrashed in his prep at Newbury and needs to find at least a stone on that showing.
And the rest?
The competition for the places looks strong but last year’s third Special Tiara, Felix Younger, a stablemate of the favourite and seemingly still on the upgrade at the age of ten, and Sizing Granite, who had Arkle runner-up God’s Own behind when landing a Grade 1 novice at Aintree last April, could all have a say. Realistically, though, they need career-best efforts to stand any chance of being called champion chaser.
Jockey quote: “He’s done all his work and he schooled fantastic last week, so we’re now just keeping a lid on him and hoping he gets there in one piece. It’s very hard to gauge him unless he’s on the track, but he looks fantastic in his coat and seems to have that presence back. He’s also got that fantastic top line again, which he seemed to lose last year.” – Nico de Boinville on Sprinter Sacre.
What’s the verdict?
It’s easy to say Un De Sceaux will win and move on – there are better bets elsewhere over the four days. However, the more I think about it the more I’m inclined to take him on for the simple reason he has very little in hand over his rivals on what he’s actually achieved. Yes, he was impressive in last year’s Arkle but the form is nothing special and I’m sure the winner of this will be more than six lengths ahead of God’s Own. That he travels with so much zest has already seen him hit the deck twice and if he does hit one in this race it could be curtains. Besides, even if does get round I can see SPRINTER SACRE giving him a race and, while there may be a smidgeon of sentimentality involved in making him my selection, we are nicely covered by Paddy Power’s ‘money back’ offer should he come up just short. Felix Younger (16/1 Sky Bet) makes most appeal of those at each-way prices.
SELECTION: Sprinter Sacre @ 9/2 Paddy Power NRNB & money back if 2nd