Un De Sceaux – 4/5 odds
Without question the Queen Mother Champion Chase, is one more Cheltenham Festival championship race that is at the mercy of yet another Willie Mullins-trained runner. This time it is the well fancied Un De Sceaux.
Winner of the 2015 Arkle Novices’ Chase, Un De Sceaux will be planning to follow in the hoof prints of the past greats such as Moscow Flyer, Sizing Europe and Sprinter Sacre who all won an Arkle before going on to success in one of steeplechasing’s most prestigious prizes, the Champion Chase. It’s a natural progression that only the true greats achieve.
Un De Sceaux made a fairly low-key start to his second season over fences, after being pulled out of the Tingle Creek in December, and then falling two from home with another Grade One win beckoning over the Christmas period at Leopardstown.
However, Un De Sceaux made no such mistake in the Clarence House and promptly recorded a career-best effort, beating Sire de Grugy -who has been in good heart himself this season, winning the Tingle Creek before going down narrowly to Sprinter Scare in the Desert Orchid – by five lengths.
Un de Sceaux is now top-rated with the likes of Timeform etc and will naturally take all the beating in the Champion Chase if putting in another clear round. But when you take shorts odds on a horse that attacks its fences in a fast and gung-ho manner then your heart will be in your mouth throughout the entirety of the race.
Vautour – 9/4 odds
Vautour is a dangerous floater in this race. For the purposes of this article we will take the consensus opinion that he will take up his entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Vautour was beaten by Cue Card in the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas but still tops the Gold Cup ante-post betting lists at 9-2 despite that narrow loss on his first attempt at three miles.
If Willie Mullins does make a late switch to this race with Vautour then his chance here is very good. Probably more so than the 3/1 non-runner money back offer that you can currently get as an insurance measure from most bookmakers.
Sprinter Sacre – 5/1 odds
Nicky Henderson is relishing the prospect of going head-to-head with Un De Sceaux but will punters relish taking 5/1 on a horse that now has a few question marks to answer at the age of ten?
Sprinter Sacre beat Sire De Grugy by three-quarters of a length in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas. That win was on the back of a visually brilliant 15 lengths victory in the Grade Two Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November. Those results have now paved the way for the leading two-milers to clash at Cheltenham.
It should not be forgotten that Sprinter Sacre was the brilliant winner of the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase and has won six other Grade One events. At the pinnacle of his career Sprinter Sacre was the most exciting horse in National Hunt racing and one of the true greats of the modern era.
His well documented heart and breathing problems then dogged his 2013/14 season and many pundits thought his racing days were over. However, Henderson appears to have got him back to peak fitness and he still has as much as a fighting chance as any in this race.
Dodging Bullets – 8/1 odds
Dodging Bullets could not have looked much better as he paraded around the Paul Nicholls yard this week. He is very likely to line up against Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase next month, the Mullins-trained odds-on shot, but will be a short price himself for his return to action at Newbury on Saturday 13th February for the Game Spirit Chase. If he wins that race in style then the 9/1 odds currently on offer may disappear quickly.
Paul Nicholls hopes Dodging Bullets’ prolonged absence from the racecourse can ultimately work in his favour with having a fresh horse lining up at the Cheltenham Festival to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown. The eight-year-old helped Nicholls secure another trainers’ title with three consecutive Grade One victories last season, the highlight of which being the length and a quarter defeat of Somersby in this championship race.
A splint injury has kept Dodging Bullets sidelined for this length of time but Nicholls believes he has him spot on again.
Special Tiara – 14/1 odds
Henry de Bromhead’s unlucky Tingle Creek Chase runner-up Special Tiara will be hoping to improve on last year’s third in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
A dual Grade One-winning two-miler already, Special Tiara was challenging Sire De Grugy at Sandown in December when the eventual winner jumped across him at the final fence. To most neutrals, Special Tiara was seen as being particularly hard done by the Stewards and form readers will have notched up a Special Tiara “victory” in their own notebooks, despite the official result saying something totally contradictory.
Sire De Grugy – 12/1 odds
Gary Moore’s horse proved no match for Un De Sceaux in the Clarence House Chase, but Moore is hopeful that they could get closer to the hot favourite at Cheltenham – or take advantage if Un De Sceaux’s fencing frailties unexpectedly resurface.
Sire De Grugy bounced back from a poor showing on his seasonal bow at Exeter to win a second Tingle Creek and looks a prime candidate to pick up any pieces should anything happen to Willie Mullins’ charge.
If you take out the favourite it’s a very wide open contest among the others and Sire De Grugy could easily run up to a 160 mark again.
Felix Yonger – 14/1 odds
The Graham Wylie-owned Felix Yonger put himself in the picture for this race with a game win the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown.
A trip to Japan has been muted for this horse but the expense involved may just tilt the balance in favour of a crack at the Queen Mother Champion Chase instead.
Form figures of 111311 cannot be dismissed lightly and Wylie would love a return to those halcyon days when he regularly saw his colours coming up that Cheltenham hill.