The Champion Chase with The Tower

The Queen Mother Champion Chase…a jewel in the Cheltenham crown. With a roll of honour to match any of the Festival’s great races, this two mile contest quite rightly takes the Wednesday spotlight. Twelve fences stand between the runners and immortality and, for this year’s field, a date with destiny awaits. The bookmakers will have you believe it’s a done deal with odds on jolly Un De Sceaux looking like he just has to turn up to land the spoils. But will this be the walk in the park most believe, or will the Willie Mullins Express suffer an unlikely defeat? Let’s take a look…

UN DE SCEAUX (Best price 3-4)

The stats with this horse are very simple – when he stands up he wins. UDS has destroyed everything put in front of him and only two falls have beaten him thus far. He has yet to see another horse go past him and that is a pretty frightening fact in itself. Detractors argue that his jumping style is fast, loose and edgy. But that is what separates the true greats from the rest. UDS has the ability to get his opponents out of their comfort zone from such an early part of each race that he has things won a long way out. And the key to him now is that he looks to be maturing into a fine jumper. Plenty of questions were asked in the build up to the Clarence House at Ascot but the manner in which he slayed Sire De Grugy and the rest was impressive. This is a horse who is now comfortable within himself and any of the novice tendencies he may have had appear to be well and truly ironed out. At odds on he offers no real betting value, but that’s with good reason. He should win and win well.

SPRINTER SACRE (Best price 9-2)

There would be no bigger cheer all week should Sprinter come gliding up that hill to recapture his crown. But the reality is he’s going to need a fall from the aforementioned Un De Sceaux to cross the line in front. There has been enough written about the ‘old’ Sprinter Sacre and how the 2016 incarnation is nowhere near his former self. I think that much is obvious. His win at Cheltenham in November was stirring but, in the cold light of day, the form has rather fallen apart when you look at what he beat that day, no matter how impressively he did it. Fast forward to Kempton and the Desert Orchid Chase and he got on top of old foe Sire De Grugy – just – but only after a blunder at the last from his rival. He would need to improve plenty from that run to get near Un De Sceaux, who has proven he is a good five or six lengths better than Sire De Grugy at the very least.

DODGING BULLETS (Best price 12-1)

The defending champion but, let’s be fair, he claimed one of the poorest renewals in living memory in 2015. His return to action in last month’s Betfair Chase was underwhelming in the extreme when put in his place by Top Gamble – almost as underwhelming as the noises coming out of Ditcheat regarding his chances for this. Paul Nicholls may as well take out an ad in the Racing Post saying the horse has no chance, because he’s done just as much without coming out and actually saying it. I’m amazed to see him carrying the same quote as a Sire De Grugy or even Special Tiara. He is being priced up as third favourite purely on last year’s win but, as I say, that has to be put in context. Definitely one to steer clear of.

SPECIAL TIARA (Best price 12-1)

An interesting contender for sure. He probably would have won the Tingle Creek had he not been clattered in mid-air by Sire De Grugy coming over the last – and even then he almost got back up to win. That wouldn’t be form to frighten Un De Sceaux, but it certainly would put Special Tiara in the mix for solid place money at a decent price. He comes here nice and fresh having not run since the Tingle Creek and will certainly get on with it up front. The danger is he will try and take on Un De Sceaux in a pace battle he simply cannot win but I’m more inclined to think UDS will be settled in behind if required. Mullins is smart enough to know the horse he has and there is no point risking a fall by having a needless ding dong battle with Special Tiara. Henry de Bromhead’s runner is certainly the one interesting fly in the ointment, tactically if nothing else.

SIRE DE GRUGY (Best price 14-1)

Sadly it looks like his day has come and gone. The Tingle Creek win was a boost but could easily have gone the other way as detailed above. And being ground down close to home by a shadow Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House simply underlined he isn’t the force of old. At a Cheltenham Preview night I attended this week, jockey Brian Hughes was at pains to stress how he had ridden behind both Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy in their trials for the Champion Chase and wasn’t at all impressed by what he saw. Should UDS fall and the race collapsed as a result, there is ever chance it would be Sire De Grugy picking up the pieces, but yet again it comes back to the favourite needing to stumble over his obstacles to let the others in.

The rest…

Nothing to be getting excited about elsewhere in the field. The likes of Somersby will be lucky to get within the same postcode of Un De Sceaux and this is not a betting heat to stoke major interest.

How we Bet…

Back SPECIAL TIARA to place. We should get around 3/1 come the day, which I think is more than a fair price. Un De Sceaux is the obvious winner for me and unless you’re including him in multiples or going in large, the odds on quotes won’t be of interest.

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