The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival and the top two-mile chase of the season.
Three previous winners set to line up in Champion Chase
There can be no doubting the quality of this year’s renewal with the last three winners all expected to start on Wednesday. Sprinter Sacre looked set to dominate the two-mile chasing division for years to come when he romped to a sensational victory at Cheltenham in 2013. That race was one of a sequence of seven consecutive Grade 1 chase victories for Nicky Henderson’s star.
His winning run came to an end when he was pulled up with an irregular heartbeat at Kempton later that year. His health problems have been well documented since with Henderson bringing him back into training last year. The gelding has not been able to recapture his best form but has shown flashes of brilliance, particularly when storming to a 19 lengths victory at Cheltenham in November.
Sprinter Sacre then had to dig deep to get the better of 2014 Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy at Kempton. The winning margin was only three-quarters of a length and it should again be close between the pair at Cheltenham.
Gary Moore considering blinkers for Sire de Grugy
Sire De Grugy has also had his training problems since winning the Champion Chase. His only victory last season came in a Chepstow handicap but he bounced back to form in December to win a second Tingle Creek Chase.
He had to survive a stewards’ enquiry before being confirmed the winner after colliding with runner-up Special Tiara at the last fence. Sire De Grugy was beaten five lengths by Un De Sceaux at Ascot last time in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase. There didn’t appear to be any excuses for the ten-year-old that day and Moore is considering fitting the horse with blinkers at Cheltenham.
Reigning Champion Dodging Bullets has only managed one racecourse appearance since beating Somersby by a length and a quarter. Paul Nicholls ran him in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last month where he was soundly beaten by Top Gamble. He will need to find a lot of improvement in a very short time if he is to successfully defend his crown.
Mullins chasing first Champion Chase with Un De Sceaux
The heir to the throne is Un De Sceaux, trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland. The eight-year-old gelding is yet to be defeated in any race in which he has completed the course. He has fallen twice over fences, most recently at Leopardstown in December.
His trainer is still seeking his first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase but Un De Sceaux is the odds-on favourite this year. He was a brilliant six lengths winner of the Arkle Trophy twelve months’ ago and his impressive Ascot win makes him the clear form choice. He is a natural front-runner and it will be interesting to see whether he is challenged in the early stages.
Special Tiara also likes to set a fast pace and did so last year, only surrendering his lead at the final fence. Henry De Bromhead’s nine-year-old is closely matched with Sire De Grugy on Sandown form and he could make life difficult for the favourite.
Mick Channon will run two-time runner-up Somersby who has been well beaten in all three races this season. The twelve-year-old has not won since November 2013 and will be running at the Cheltenham festival for a remarkable eight successive season.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is due off at 3.30 on Wednesday and will be screened live on Channel 4.