The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the ultimate speed test for two-mile chasers at the Cheltenham Festival.
This season’s renewal of the race has the potential to be the highlight of the entire meeting and there are four horses with a realistic chance of winning.
The formerly undisputed king of the two-mile chasing scene has seen challengers to his throne emerge since being detected with a heart condition after being pulled up at Kempton in December 2013. Up to that point he had been unbeaten in 10 chase starts, winning the 2012 Arkle and 2013 Champion Chase. He achieved the rare feat of winning at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals in 2013. His return in January in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot suggested the ability is still there. He travelled supremely well until tiring in the latter stages and was not given a hard time by Barry Geraghty. If a lack of match practice was the chief contributor, then Nicky Henderson will hope his nine-year-old is still the one to beat at Cheltenham.
SIRE DE GRUGY
Sire De Grugy took advantage of Sprinter Sacre’s absence to confirm himself the pre-eminent two-mile chaser last season. A winner of eight of his last nine starts, Sire De Grugy won last year’s Champion Chase, but has not been seen since completing back-to-back wins in the Celebration Chase at Sandown in April. A hip injury has sidelined him so far this season, but Gary Moore’s stable star is on course to return in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February. At their respective bests, Sire De Grugy still has a bit to find with Sprinter Sacre and he is also vulnerable to a progressive two-mile chaser, especially due to the fitness concerns.
Dodging Bullets certainly fits the profile of a progressive chaser. Summer treatment for stomach ulcers and the application of a tongue tie in his last two races seem to have done the trick for the seven-year-old. Paul Nicholls’ horse needed the run on his reappearance when beaten by Uxizandre at Cheltenham, and he has followed that up with two Grade One wins in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Clarence House. He showed tremendous spirit to get past Sprinter Sacre and, as an article on betting.betfair suggests, there is no need to doubt his ability to topple the front two in the betting or get up the Cheltenham hill.
The 2012 Bumper winner, 2013 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner and last year’s Arkle runner-up, Champagne Fever is going to have another stab over two miles in the Champion Chase. Three miles proved too far when fourth in the King George and he then fell at the last over two-and-a-half miles in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles in January. Connections are now going to send the speedball over two miles again in the Champion Chase. He had Dodging Bullets behind in fourth when second to Western Warhorse in last year’s Arkle and is a dangerous contender, if the return to two miles shows Willie Mullins’ horse in his best light.