Cheltenham - At The Races

15:30 Cheltenham 15 Mar 2017

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) (Class 1) (5YO plus)

Winner £208,300 - 10 ran

4

1m 7f 199y

Good to Soft (Good in places)

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Weighed In

Runner Profiles

    Andy Gibson's horse-by-horse guide.
  • Tuesday 28 February 2017
  • Runner Profiles

The 2017 Champion Chase will very likely turn out to be a small-field affair mainly due to the presence of such a strong favourite in Douvan. I expect there will be somewhere between five and nine horses lining up and the ‘without the favourite’ market will be the main place of interest from a betting perspective.

Horse profiles

Douvan (FR)

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Walk In The Park - Star Face (Saint Des Saints)
  • Trained by: W P Mullins
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 15 Mar 2017 15:30
  • Result: 7/10, led until after 1st, tracked leaders, went 2nd 6th, hit 3 out, lost 2nd and soon beaten, well held 2 out
  • View full form

He won as he pleased in the Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in early February. This added another small field weakly-contested victory to his name. He is unbeaten in his 13 races since being trained by Willie Mullins and will surely remain unbeaten this season as he is simply much better than the second best horse around in this division. The only fly in the ointment will come when the connections of Altior decide to compete out of novice company with their star chaser. At the moment this seems highly unlikely to happen in the Champion Chase. Perhaps these two great horses will meet further down the line at Punchestown?

As part of my research I like to consider each festival favourite and allot them a mark out of ten. This rating is then the beginning of a process whereby I decide which favourites are worth backing, which ones are beatable and also those races where I need to focus my attentions on the ‘without the favourite’ market only. The 2017 Champion Chase definitely comes into that last bracket due to the presence of Douvan.

He is unbeaten in all of his races under rules since being trained by Willie Mullins. He has two Cheltenham Festival successes to his name already. The last of those was gained as a chaser and over the same course and distance he will be facing this March. Douvan has never really appeared to be in any danger in any of those 13 victories. He is proven in every department and is simply head and shoulders above the horses he will be facing in the 2017 Champion Chase (assuming Altior goes for the Arkle Chase).

I will keep a close eye on the form of the yard in the days leading up to the festival which will be the final piece of the jigsaw. I take the price on board when assessing the claims of each festival favourite. The only reason that Douvan does not score a perfect ten out of ten in my ratings is because he is currently trading as short as 3/10 in the ante-post markets. Hence, the ‘without the favourite’ market is the place where I will focus my attentions for the 2017 Champion Chase.

Video Form
5 Feb 2017:
27 Dec 2016:
11 Dec 2016:
28 Apr 2016:
24 Jan 2016:

Fox Norton (FR)

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Lando - Natt Musik (Kendor)
  • Trained by: C L Tizzard
  • Last Race: Punchestown, 25 Apr 2017 17:30
  • Result: Won/8, soon raced in 4th, mainly 3rd after 4th, slight mistake 5th, not fluent 3 out and pushed along, challenged before last, led and stayed on best from early run-in
  • View full form

The success of Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup has cast some doubts regarding the participation of Fox Norton in the Champion Chase. Both horses share the same owner and if Sizing John heads down the Gold Cup route (which seems the most likely scenario) then this might open the door for a possible switch to the Ryanair Chase for Fox Norton. The fact that the Tizzards stated their possible preference for the longer race adds some substance to this possibility.

One can understand any trainer not looking forward to the prospect of taking on Douvan with one of their stable stars. Although he will be fighting for second place only in the shorter race assuming Douvan completes the course without mishap; there is nothing in his profile to suggest that the challenges he would face in a Ryanair Chase would show him in his best light. I understand that he was running on up the hill in the 2016 Arkle Chase; nonetheless, he was really just going past beaten horses and was never in danger of troubling the first two horses’ home. This is a world of difference from suggesting that he will, therefore, be suited to competing over an extra five furlongs.

Hopefully, Fox Norton will take his place in the Champion Chase line-up and, if he does, he should run well and has a strong chance of finishing in the first three or four places. In the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase last time out he ran perfectly okay on ground that would have been softer than ideal. He was simply outclassed by the winner Altior as every other two-miler in training would be aside from probably Douvan. I think that the comprehensive nature of this defeat could easily have played a part in turning minds to a possible tilt at the Ryanair Chase for Fox Norton.

Video Form
25 Apr 2017:
30 Jan 2016:
17 Feb 2015:

God's Own

  • 9-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Oscar - Dantes Term (Phardante)
  • Trained by: T R George
  • Last Race: Punchestown, 25 Apr 2017 17:30
  • Result: 3/8, tracked leaders, soon 3rd, mainly 4th after 4th, dropped to 5th briefly before straight, soon pushed along to chase leader, close 3rd and mistake last, slightly impeded run-in and no impression but kept on
  • View full form

He is unsuited to racing on winter soft ground so has once again been rested over the winter months. He ran particularly well the last time we saw him when finishing strongly into third place behind Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December.

He is clearly a better horse when competing on a right-handed track; at the same time, he will only need to repeat the quality of his two previous Cheltenham Festival performances to finish in the prize money at worst.

I thought he was overpriced in the ‘without the favourite’ market in the 2016 Champion Chase. He was available at 12/1 a year ago and holds broadly similar claims in 2017. Unfortunately he is currently trading as short as 11/4 in that peripheral market which I suggest overstates his chances. He never looked like getting close to the eventual third horse home, Special Tiara, last year yet is currently half the odds of the Henry de Bromhead horse.

My hope with God’s Own is for him to perform no more than okay at both Cheltenham and Aintree to aid his price for the Punchestown Festival. He has been off the course for three months so has every chance of repeating his exploits of 2016 and competing at all three spring festivals.

Video Form
25 Apr 2017:
26 Apr 2016:

Special Tiara

  • 10-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Kayf Tara - Special Choice (Bob Back)
  • Trained by: H de Bromhead
  • Last Race: Sandown, 29 Apr 2017 15:00
  • Result: 2/4, led, hard pressed after 3 out, headed after next, soon ridden, kept on same pace, no impression with winner after last
  • View full form

I have felt he has generally been overlooked in the Champion Chase market since he finished third in the Shloer Chase on unsuitably soft ground in November. After that race he was generally available at around 33/1 for the Champion Chase as opposed to the 7/1 offered for the winner of that grade 2 contest, Fox Norton. I believe that both horses will improve significantly when competing on a faster surface; however, this does not mean that they will improve pro-rata. The Tizzard horse has the more potential to progress of the two but Special Tiara has two top runs in previous Champion Chases to his name which makes him the more reliable prospect to produce his best form at the festival on a faster surface.

There is plenty of evidence to strongly suggest that Special Tiara has very little chance of overturning Douvan in the Champion Chase. Because Fox Norton carries fewer convictions to his name one can understand that he should be the preferred choice in the main market. Nevertheless, the fact that the ‘without the favourite market’ is often if not always created on a pro-rata basis from the main win prices throws up an interesting potential bet on Special Tiara. Based on his overall profile he is surely the horse in the race most likely to run his race and follow the favourite home; surprisingly, therefore he is currently the sixth favourite in that market and can be supported each way at 6/1 in that peripheral market. (Or 5/1 NRNB)

Prior to his latest start at Cheltenham I was hoping to see Special Tiara perform well for a long way before dropping out of contention up the hill on ground that was much more testing than ideal. The outcome of the Clarence House Chase could not have worked out any better with my thoughts on the Champion Chase in mind. This is not to say Special Tiara is by any means certain to finish in the first three or four in a

Champion Chase hopefully run on a quicker surface; rather he has an excellent chance of doing so and is now more attractively priced on account of the way he faded out of contention to finish last of five at Cheltenham in late January. That last of five label has certainly done no harm to his price in the 'without the favourite' markets.

Video Form
26 Apr 2016:
8 Nov 2015:
9 Nov 2014:
26 Aug 2014:
4 Aug 2014:

Sire De Grugy (FR)

The 2014 Champion Chaser performed disappointingly when attempting to defend his crown in the 2015 renewal. He then finished tailed off behind Sprinter Sacre in the 2016 Champion Chase. He has experienced mixed fortunes in his five races since the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.

Sire De Grugy was once again a long way behind Sprinter Sacre in the Celebration Chase at Sandown last April. He disappointed on his seasonal debut when stepped up in trip at Aintree. He then came good on his return to handicap company at Ascot in November. He saved his best run of the season for the Tingle Creek Chase when he finished a close second behind Un De Sceaux. We have not seen him since he unseated his rider at Kempton over the Christmas period.

This Gary Moore-trained veteran would have to return to his previous best to hold any chance of being competitive here. His two poor efforts in the last two renewals of the race make him a very easy horse to draw a line through in the 2017 Champion Chase.

Video Form
21 Feb 2015:

REST OF THE FIELD

At the time of writing three of the first six horses in the Champion Chase market appear likely to line up elsewhere. Un De Sceaux is clearly waiting in the wings in case anything goes wrong with the favourite. Uxizandre appears more likely to go for the Ryanair Chase at least according to the betting. I really hope he goes for the longer race as his front running style might well compromise the claims of Special Tiara if he lines up here instead. The current short priced second favourite in the market is Altior; however, my best guess with him is that we may see him switch to the Champion Chase but only if something happens to Douvan prior to the festival.

CONCLUSIONS

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

ALTIOR is currently trading at 5/2 NRNB for the 2017 Champion Chase. If anything goes wrong for Douvan I could see him switched to compete in the Champion Chase. Given this scenario he would be around 2/5 to win the race in my opinion. The likeliest outcome of backing him now will be that we will receive our full stake back on the Wednesday of the festival. In the unlikely event of Nicky Henderson asking his stable star to take on Douvan then I would be more than happy to have Altior on my side at 5/2 in that match.

There are very few viable contenders for the 2017 Champion Chase. This is one of many reasons why an each-way play in the ‘without the favourite’ market appears to be such an attractive proposition.

SPECIAL TIARA has a very strong chance of finishing in the first four (assuming Douvan completes in the first three!) My confidence in him will improve considerably if he is able to compete on good ground and more so if Uxizandre misses the race and allows Special Tiara the prospect of a much easier lead.

He is currently available at 6/1 and 5/1 NRNB in the market ‘without the favourite’ and is much too big in a race that could end up with very few runners.

Previous Winners

Year Winner Trainer Jockey Age/Wt SP
2016Sprinter SacreN J HendersonNico de Boinville10 11-105/1
2015Dodging BulletsP F NichollsSam Twiston-Davies7 11-109/2
2014Sire De GrugyG L MooreJ E Moore8 11-1011/4f
2013Sprinter SacreN J HendersonB J Geraghty7 11-101/4f
2012Finian's RainbowN J HendersonB J Geraghty9 11-104/1
2011Sizing EuropeH De BromheadA E Lynch9 11-1010/1
2010 Big Zeb Colm A Murphy B J Geraghty 9 11-10 10/1
2008 Master Minded P Nicholls R Walsh 6 11-10 4/11f
2008 Master Minded P Nicholls R Walsh 5 11-10 3/1
2007 Voy Por Ustedes A King R Thornton 6 11-10 5-1
2006 Newmill J J Murphy A J McNamara 8 11-10 16-1
2005 Moscow Flyer Mrs J Harrington B Geraghty 11 11-10 6-4f
2004 Azertyuiop P F Nicholls R Walsh 7 11-10 15-8
2003 Moscow Flyer Mrs J Harrington B Geraghty 9 12-0 7-4f
2002 Flagship Uberalles P J Hobbs R Johnson 8 12-0 7-4f
2001 No Race
2000 Edredon Bleu Miss H C Knight A P McCoy 8 12-0 7-2
1999 Call Equiname P F Nicholls M Fitzgerald 9 12-0 7-2
1998 One Man G Richards B Harding 10 12-0 7-2
1997 Martha's Son Capt T Forster R Farrant 10 12-0 9-1
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