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Horse Racing

Sire De Grugy Taken To Retain Champion Chase Crown

Monday 23rd February 2015

The Champion Chase is the latest race to fall under the spotlight in our ante-post preview series and the subplot to this year’s renewal is whether Sprinter Sacre can become the first horse in the race’s 56 year history to regain his crown.

Can Sprinter Bounce Back?

Who can forget the manner in which the Nicky Henderson trained nine-year-old demolished six rivals in 2013 when, at the age of seven, he breezed up the famous Prestbury Park Hill to a 19-length victory. That was Sprinter Sacre’s tenth consecutive win over fences and he made it twelve on the bounce within five weeks of the Festival with further wins in the Melling Chase at Aintree before going on to land the Irish Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival.

Seemingly unstoppable, ‘Sprinter’ entered the 2013/2014 season as the odds-on favourite to defend his Champion Chase title but preparations ground to a halt after his winning streak came to an end when pulling up in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton’s Christmas meeting. He was found to have an irregular heartbeat that forced him to miss not only the 2014 Festival but also the entire calendar year. He made his return to action at Ascot In January this year, where he could only finish second behind Dodging Bullets in the Clarence House Chase but it was reported that he had a nosebleed during the race.

Reports from Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard suggest that Sprinter Sacre is making good progress at home and is on track to line up on March 11th. He is currently a best price 3/1 to regain the Champion Chase with Paddy Power, which, given the questions surrounding his health, looks to be on the skinny side. However, a return to the kind of form that saw him romp to victory two years ago when he was a 1/4 shot could make the 3s look like the bet of the year. However, Sprinter Sacre cannot be advised as a bet given the doubts but it is fully understandable why anybody would want to take a chance at the odds.

Other Leading Contenders

Also towards the head of the betting is Dodging Bullets, who got the better of Sprinter Sacre by three lengths last time out and who is subsequently a 4/1 chance to get his first Cheltenham Festival victory at the fourth time of asking. The seven-year-old contested the Triumph Hurdle in 2012 before lining up in the Supreme Novices Hurdle two years ago and 12 months ago, he contested the Arkle, failing to make an impact on any occasion. However, the penny does seem to have dropped for the son of Dubawi this season, winning two of is three starts over fences since losing his novice status. He won the Tingle Creek back in December, the last two winners of which have won the Queen Mother, before beating Sprinter Sacre at Ascot in January. He was available at odds as big as 40/1 prior to the Tingle Creek but those subsequent wins has resulted in his price crashing to 4/1! Whilst Dodging Bullets does have winning form at Cheltenham, the price is too short now and his previous form at the Festival is a big negative against his name.

The defending Queen Mother champion is Sire De Grugy, who took full advantage of Sprinter Sacre’s absence last season. The Gary Moore trained runner won five races on the spin twelve months ago, including a six-length victory in the Champion Chase. His seasonal reappearance was delayed due to a hip injury and when he did make a comeback at Newbury in early February, he unseated jockey, Jamie Moore, three from home.

As a result, there were questions prior to his weekend run at Chepstow as to whether he had retained the ability he showed when winning this race in 2014. However, a comfortable seven length victory at the South Wales venue went a long way to answering those doubts and anyone who took the 7/1 on offer with William Hill about the nine-year-old joining the illustrious list of nine horses before him to win back-to-back Champion Chases prior to the off on Saturday, will be delighted now that he is a best price 7/2 chance and second favourite behind Sprinter Sacre.

The fact that Sire De Grugy has less fitness doubts than Sprinter Sacre at this stage and is equally as proven when it comes to possessing the required ability needed to win this race, he looks a more reliable pick at this stage of the two market leaders.

The Irish Raider(s)

Having won the race for five of nine renewals between 2003 and 2011, Ireland hasn’t boasted the winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in three years but in the form of Champagne Fever, the Emerald Isle has a contender capable of ending that wait. The Willie Mullins trained and Rich Ricci owned eight-year-old has some impressive form to his name with victories in the Clonmel Oil Chase in November and Red Mills Chase at Gowan Park his most eye-catching wins this season. However, his fourth in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day should not be overlooked and whilst the trip may have been too far for him, it proved he was a top class performer and more than capable of mixing with the sport’s elite chasing talent.

Champagne Fever won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival two years ago before finishing a head behind Western Warhorse in the Arkle 12 months ago. As such, Prestbury Park will pose no problems for him and he represents a big danger to the British contingent and won’t be short of backers at the current price of 11/2 with William Hill.

Of the other Irish runners, Hidden Cyclone is rated a general 12/1 chance and shouldn’t be ruled out based on his second in the Ryanair Chase last year but with just one win in his last eight starts, he’s not one to pin a massive amount of confidence on. Plus, the Ryanair Chase may once again be the preferred target.

Special Tiara is also worth a mention for the Irish after his win in the Desert Orchid Chase at Christmas, a race that has been won by two of the last three Champion Chase winners. The Henry De Bromhead trained runner is currently a 25/1 chance and it’s hard to make a convincing case after he finished sixth in the race 12 months ago but his Kempton form merits some respect and he may be of interest to each-way value hunters.

Conclusion

The 2015 Queen Mother Champion Chase has the hallmarks of being the race of the Festival with the quartet of market leaders all holding solid claims on form. However, when margins are so narrow, it can pay dividends to side with proven class at the Festival and Sire De Grugy has the fewest questions to answer in his bid to become the tenth horse to win this race for a second consecutive season and 7/2 about a reigning champ looks too good to ignore.

Champion Chase Pick

Sire De Grugy @ 7/2

2015 Queen Mother Champion Chase Odds

Altior Nico de Boinville / N J Henderson 4/9
Footpad 7/1
Min R Walsh / W P Mullins 10/1
Un De Sceaux 14/1
Sceau Royal D A Jacob / A King 14/1
Politologue Harry Cobden / P F Nicholls 25/1
Simply Ned 25/1
Fox Norton 25/1
Saint Calvados G Sheehan / H Whittington 25/1
Lady Buttons 33/1
Castlegrace Paddy D N Russell / P A Fahy 33/1
Ordinary World Rachael Blackmore / H de Bromhead 33/1
Diego Du Charmil 33/1
Petit Mouchoir 33/1
Special Tiara 50/1
Gods Own P J Brennan / T R George 50/1
A Toi Phil 66/1
Forest Bihan 66/1
Ozzie The Oscar 66/1
Doctor Phoenix 66/1
Hells Kitchen B J Geraghty / H Fry 66/1
Each Way Terms 3
1/5

BEST ODDS
Odds correct as of 11th Apr, 04:01 . Odds are subject to change.
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