Sire De Grugy heads a field of 11 for the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature on Wednesday, Day two of the Cheltenham Festival. The 8-y-o is bidding to put the seal on a magnificent season after wins at Chepstow, Sandown, Kempton and Ascot.
Success in the BetVictor Tingle Creek at Sandown gave the trainer Gary and jockey Jamie their first win at G1 level. That haul was soonly doubled with a rout in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, picking off the prominent Hidden Cyclone on the turn, and the rest was history.
The race that lives long in the memory of this writer however is his run at Cheltenham in November, when second behind Kid Cassidy in the Schloer Chase.
His jumping severely let him down that day and he looked to struggle with the infamous undulations of the Cheltenham camber. That combined with his best form coming at right-handed tracks on soft ground makes the favourite vulnerable on good, spring ground at this year’s festival.
Kid Cassidy re-opposes once more, having his first run since disappointing in Ireland behind the Ryanair bound pair of Benefficient and Hidden Cyclone. Arvika Ligeonniere was 4th that day and is another who looks unsuited by the up-and-down nature of the track, jumping markedly out to his right in last year’s Arkle and his race will likely be Punchestown’s Champion Chase; a track where Willie Mullins’ charge is unbeaten in four starts to date.
Sizing Europe chased home Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham and Punchestown and at 12-y-o it would be a monumental feat to feature in the frame and old father time could yet be a player at double figure prices; two wins and two seconds at the festival over timber.
Wishfull Thinking turned over the well backed pair of Double Ross and Tap Night in a competitive handicap chase at Cheltenham in January and did so under the burden of top weight. Phillip Hobbs’s 11-y-o was 3rd in the race last year and won the Schloer Chase over course and distance 18 months ago – he could be worth a poke at around the 25/1 mark.
Another old boy is Somersby, who gave trainer Mick Channon success in the BetVictor Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. He got the better of a fast-finishing Module but surely neither are good enough to cut the mustard at the top table of two milers?
Sizing Europe is a veteran of five appearances at the Cheltenham Festival, which is in stark contrast to Paul Nicholls’ Hinterland. The 6-y-o steps up out of novice company for the first time after beating a sub-par Grandouet twice at Sandown and had smart form last season chasing home Nicky Henderson’s pair of Captain Conan and Simonsig.
Second season chasers have a cracking record in the race with Moscow Flyer, Voy Por Ustedes, Finians Rainbow and Sprinter Sacre all tasting glory and those look the ones to focus on, with Captain Conan preferred over the pair of Baily Green and Special Tiara.
Mouse Morris’ Baily Green chased home Simonsig in last year’s Arkle and should be better suited than most on the drying ground, presumably spot on for the race after a spin over hurdles last month at Leopardstown.
Special Tiara has similar credentials having won the G1 Novices’ Chase at Aintree however looked uneasy at Cheltenham when chasing home Sire De Grugy and Kid Cassidy in November and was soundly beaten by the pair that day, with little evidence to support the 7-y-o turning the form around anytime soon.
That almost leaves Captain Conan (3.20) as a winner by default, for connections who have won the last two renewals of the race with Finians Rainbow and Sprinter Sacre respectively.
Captain Conan beat Sire De Grugy on his first run over fences in November 2012 and looked the winner two fences from home in his other start at the track in last year’s Jewson. He tired late in the closing stages however Nicky Henderson’s 7-y-o is finally able to run over the trip that he was always likely to thrive over and is a more than able deputy for the ‘Equine Aeroplane’.
He ran a cracker on his seasonal return behind Sire De Grugy and Somersby in the BetVictor Tingle Creek and he should be even better to bring up a unique hat-trick for the team at Seven Barrows with further success in the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase.
BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.15 Wednesday) – Captain Conan