Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1)
The Grade One Queen Mother Champion Chase is the biggest two mile chase every year, run on Day 2 (Wednesday 15th March) of Cheltenham Festival.
With our original Champion Chase tip Ar Mad declared a Non Runner, it looks even more unlikely that anything will be able to stop the imperious Douvan from taking this race, and he is our tip to succeed.
Purchased by Rich Ricci following two starts in France (second on debut, and then a winner) he remains unbeaten when carrying the famous pink silks. 13 runs have seen 13 wins, with his roll call of honours including the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Arkle Chase and the Maghull Novices’ Chase – all Grade 1 races. His step up into more experienced company has seen him take three races as he liked, including the Grade 1 Cashcard Chase.
His official handicap mark of 174 rates him seven pounds better than anything else in the field, and with wins on all types of going from Heavy to Good to Soft, the ground will not be an issue. Neither will the Cheltenham hill, as he has proven with his two victories at the Festival at Prestbury Park.
Over fences, he has yet to come off the bridle in any of his victories and his cruising speed is something to behold. Despite the copious amounts of bad luck connections have had this season, they retain the services of their stable star and he should add the near £200,000 first prize to his £519,000 of prize money already acquired.
With the novice Altior looking likely to go for the Arkle Chase, his main danger is likely to be Colin Tizzard’s Fox Norton. However, form is firmly in the Irish raider’s favour, with two convincing victories on the occasions that they have met: by 11 lengths in the 2016 Arkle Trophy and then by 32 lengths in the Maghull Novices’ Chase. While there is no doubting the Potts horse has improved considerably and put in two lifetime best runs on his last two starts – not least when winning the Shloer Chase by an impressive nine lengths – his form looks nowhere near as strong as Douvan’s.
The Champion Chase betting trends are as follows:
- 9 of the last 10 winners had between 7 and 13 career chasing starts
- 9 of the last 10 winners had either 2 or 3 seasonal runs
- 10 of the previous 10 winners had RacingPost Ratings of 165 or higher on their last start before Cheltenham Festival
- 9 of the last 10 winners placed in their last completed Graded race before the Champion Chase
- 8 of the last 10 winners had previously at least placed at Cheltenham – 6 of the 8 had already won at Cheltenham
- The winners odds have varied; 2 odds on winners, 2 double figure winners (10/1 and 10/1) and 6 winners from 1/1 to 5/1.
Paul Nicholls has won the Champion Chase three times in the last ten years, twice with Master Minded (2008, 2009) and again in 2015 with Dodging Bullets. Nicky Henderson is the other multiple winner, with Finian’s Rainbow (2012) and Sprinter Sacre twice (2013 & 2016). Festival stalwart Barry Geraghty has ridden three winners of the previous ten, twice for Nicky Henderson and once for C A Murphy. Ruby Walsh rode both of Paul Nicholls’s Master Minded victories and will likely ride favourite Douvan this year; he is likely to go off a ridiculously short price for a trainer who has never won the race for Willie Mullins.
Trends Analysis: No big surprises in the trends, with both experience and class being strong factors in determining winners. Don’t rule out horses who have not already won around Cheltenham, but it may be best to downgrade those who struggled last time out, given their poor record. Trial races to bear in mind are the Tingle Creek (won by Un De Sceaux) and the Arkle Chase (Douvan), the Desert Orchid Chase (Sprinter Sacre) and the Tied Cottage Chase (Douvan).
The premier two mile chase of the year, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, is the pinnacle of the division and as such it has been won in the past by the very best, with Sprinter Sacre recapturing his crown in one of last season’s highlights.
The hot favourite at the time of writing, and likely to stay there barring accidents, the imperious Douvan bids to claim his first championship race. Winner of all his starts to date in the UK and Ireland, we are starting to run out of superlatives to describe this magnificent horse. He eased to victory in the Supreme Novices in 2015 before returning a year later to dismiss the Arkle field with complete contempt, barely needing to be shaken up to crush his opponents. Arguably, this will be his hardest test yet; but, in the same vein, we have not seen the best of him yet, and who knows what he will find this year if Ruby Walsh gets serious on him.
Coming out of the woodwork as a contender for the race when winning the Shloer Chase with ease here back in November, Fox Norton is likely to be even better than he has shown so far. Taking the route that Sprinter Sacre did last year, he won in similar style to last year’s winner, powering clear in the closing stages to win by a growing nine lengths. Whether he can get close to Douvan is a question we could ponder over for hours with different answers. However, he is likely to throw down a stern test and has to be respected for Colin Tizzard.
Second in last year’s renewal with no answer to Sprinter Sacre, Un De Sceaux returned this season with a very game performance to win the Tingle Creek, responding well to Ruby Walsh to win by one length from Sire De Grugy in second. He will need softer ground to show his true running, which may be hard to come by in March. However, he does have to be respected as his Arkle win in 2015 still has not been forgotten. Whether he will oppose Douvan is another question, and with both the Rich Ricci horse and Fox Norton looking likely to run here, the Ryanair Chase may well be a safer and far more winnable option.
All heart and the horse of a lifetime for the Preston Family & Friends, the familiar Sire De Grugy will be bidding to reclaim the crown that he won in 2014 in brilliant style. He was by no means disgraced when returning this season, finishing a length second to Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek; but he unseated Jamie Moore at the second fence in the Desert Orchid Chase which was not part of the script. Now an eleven-year-old, he is vulnerable to younger legs and has most likely seen the best of his days. Having said that, he does still perform admirably at Grade 1 level and could sneak a place in this year if at his best.
The Irish Champion Chase winner and Melling Chase hero of 2016, God’s Own has been a good servant for the Crossed Fingers Partnership. He has not been disgraced this season, finishing second in a Grade 2 on his return at Aintree. His subsequent third in the Grade 2 Stella Artois 1965 Chase was, however, disappointing. Although he was third in the Tingle Creek, less than two lengths behind Un De Sceaux, it is hard to see him having any more than place prospects in this year’s running.
In actuality, Special Tiara’s narrow victory in the Desert Orchid in December was disappointing, only just managing to fend off Sir Valentino who arguably would have beaten his rival without a blunder at the second last. A staple of the two mile division, he continues to pop up with good performances and was not disgraced when a nose third in this race last season. He does, however, have 18 lengths to find with Fox Norton on the Shloer Chase running and that is unlikely to be overturned in the Champion Chase.
There are 28 runners at the initial entry stage of the Champion Chase:
- Alisier D’Irlande
- Ar Mad – will not run
- Black Hercules
- Champagne Fever
- Dodging Bullets
- Fox Norton
- Garde La Victoire
- God’s Own
- Just Cameron
- L’Ami Serge
- Royal Regatta
- Simply Ned
- Sire De Grugy
- Sir Valentino
- Sizing Granite
- Sizing John
- Special Tiara
- Tell Us More
- The Game Changer
- Traffic Fluide
- Un De Sceaux
- Viconte Du Noyer
- Vroum Vroum Mag
The only back-to-back winner in recent years was the Paul Nicholls trained Master Minded, who rounded off the noughties with wins at 3/1 and as the odds-on favourite in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
Barry Geraghty rode the relatively unfancied 10/1 shot Big Zeb to victory in 2010, leading practically the whole way on good ground before moving away from the field to claim a six length victory. He was beaten into second the following year by another 10/1 shot Sizing Europe. Andrew Lynch drew his mount level with the leaders going over the seventh, was driven out before the second to last and stayed on strongly to secure a first Queen Mother for his trainer Henry De Bromhead.
The 2012 and 2013 races were both won by the Barry Geraghty/Nicky Henderson combination. Finian’s Rainbow was the first in this big race double; sent off at 4/1, the nine-year-old tracked the leaders throughout, battled for the lead going over the last and stayed on strong when all out over the final 100 yards. He eventually edged out the defending champion to claim a dramatic victory. The following year’s instalment was much less competitive, as Sprinter Sacre, at the height of his prestigious powers, romped to a 19 length victory as the odds-on favourite. No one could touch him that day as he pulled away from the field just before the second to last, looking at his smooth, dominant best throughout.
With Sprinter Sacre unable to defend his title due to injury, Gary Moore’s highly rated chaser Sire De Grugy was the 11/4 favourite and lived up to that tag with a comfortable six length victory. Although held up at the start of the race, Jamie Moore’s mount soon tracked the leaders and drew level before pulling away on the flat, confidently running away from the chasing pack for a six length victory.
The 2015 race looked like a mouth-watering showdown between Sire de Grugy and the returning Sprinter Sacre. But it sadly was not meant to be, as the Nicky Henderson star never looked race ready and was disappointingly pulled up well before the end. Sire De Grugy too looked a little out of sorts, eventually finishing fourth. However, in one of the tightest and most exciting finishes in recent years, it was Paul Nicholls who regained the prize he had last won in 2010, as Dodging Bullets pulled clear of Somersby and Special Tiara over the final furlong to claim a huge victory for Nicholls and his jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.
However, a year makes a lot of difference as Sprinter Sacre returned to his magnificent best, taking five lengths out of Un De Sceaux and Special Tiara on the turn to charge up the Cheltenham hill and win by three and a half lengths, regaining his crown. Un De Sceaux only just held off Special Tiara and he once again ran admirably to finish third in an emotional renewal of the race.