Full race preview and Champion Chase free betting tips for the feature race on day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival 2014 at 3.20pm.
The highlight of the second day of the Cheltenham Festival is the 2m Queen Mother Champion Chase. Won emphatically by Sprinter Sacre at last year’s Festival, the world’s highest rated horse will unfortunately not return to defend his crown. In his absence, a field of 11 line-up to contest what is usually a fast and furious race which punishes those runners who fail to put in a clear, accurate round of jumping. Here is my best bet for the race.
The current favourite is the form horse in the race. SIRE DE GRUGY (5/2 BetVictor) has won three Graded races this year, including the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase. With Sprinter Sacre unable to contest the biggest 2m chasing prizes, this horse has duly stepped up and shown impressive form beating the likes of Somersby who opposes here once again. This Gary Moore trained horse looks to be improving with each run and certainly put in his best display on his latest start at Ascot. Sent off the 5/4 favourite, he comfortably beat the field by 11 lengths and always looked as if there was more to give. A winner on good and good to soft ground on six careers starts to date those questioning his ability to truly handle the drying conditions maybe trying to exaggerate their search for flaws. Similarly, some question his ability to deal with Cheltenham as he has been beaten on both starts. When you examine those defeats carefully there are plausible excuses for each loss. He was far less then the finished article when loosing by two lengths to Captain Conan in 2012, just lacking the immediate turn of foot possessed by the winner. Regarding his loss to Kid Cassidy, he hit the front far too early on and had to give 10lbs in weight. Off level weights he came out of the race as the best horse as he only lost by just over three lengths. He must go very close here!
Second in the market is the Nicky Henderson trained Captain Conan (5/1 Betfred). With Sprinter Sacre missing the race, Henderson will be hoping that Captain Conan can act as a suitable replacement and claim victory. As a second season novice chaser this horse has only had one start this campaign, finishing a distant third to Sire De Grugy at Sandown. He travelled and jumped well that day looking the most likely winner coming into the home straight. Unfortunately he quickly emptied on the run-in looking as if he badly needed the run. Without a preparation run for this race, Im struggling to understand why (on market position) this horse is the biggest threat to Sire De Grugy. For me he fitness is the issue, and despite a great record at Prestbury Park I wouldn’t trust his ability to overturn his seven length defeat by Sire De Grugy, a horse has markedly improved since their last meeting.
Stablemate to Captain Conan is Kid Cassidy (12/1 Stan James), the only horse to successfully beat Sire De Grugy this season. That victory came over course and distance and a reproduction of a similar run would give him a good chance. However, he Beat Sire De Gurgy off a 10lb lighter weight by only 3 lengths having been given a perfect ride by AP McCoy. The horse and jockey pairing are reunited once again and McCoy will have to be at his very best as the horse is very much a law unto his own. His latest start resulted in a 60 length loss to Benefficient at Leopardstown on a day where he really didn't seem that interested in the game. He is far too unpredictable to back against a good quality field.
Next we have the first of the many Irish challengers – Arvika Ligeonniere (7/1 bet365). Trained by Willie Mullins this horse arrives here on the back of a demolition job in a Grade 2 at Punchestown. That may not have been the strongest race but he looked supreme at a track where he is yet to be beaten. Undoubtedly this horse thrives going right-handed in ground with plenty of cut in it, but he could still be an interesting contender despite faced with these different conditions. In the main he jumped a great deal straighter during his latest runs and his form over further should prove to be a massive positive if the race is run at a fast pace and stamina comes into play late on. Arvika Ligeonniere has yet to scale the heights, and win the races, of Sire De Grugy but at the prices, and providing he jumps well, he shouldn’t be underestimated in the race.
Other Irish challengers include Baily Green (8/1 William Hill), Sizing Europe, Special Tiara (20/1 Ladbrokes). Of the three, Sizing Europe (14/1 BetVictor) could be an interesting runner at a big price. Despite an otherwise average season (1 win from 3 starts) he will relish the drying ground and finished a creditable second to Sprinter Sacre in this contest 12 months ago. A previous winner of this race in 2011, this 12 year-old is rated only 1lb lower than Sire De Grugy on official ratings and might well peak for his return to Cheltenham.
Of the others, Hinterland (11/1 bet365) arrives here as a second season novice who has claimed two victories from two starts this season. Both those came in novice company and he should find the step up in class that bit too testing. Somersby (16/1 Betfred) has been beaten twice by Sire De Grugy and looks to have a bit to find. The field is completed by Module (20/1 BetVictor) and Wishfull Thinking (25/1 William Hill), the former needs to find 12lbs with the favourite and the latter has been running in handicap company and is justifiably the big priced runner.
Although the absence of Sprinter Sacre has taken a lot of the appeal out of the race, it should still develop into a great contest with a worthy winner. Earlier in the year I was interested in Arvika Ligeonniere at double figure prices but the value has gone and the lack of market support for SIRE DE GRUGY has made his price very appealing. He sets the form standard and if he runs right up to his best at Cheltenham he should prove too good for these rivals.
SIRE DE GRUGY (WIN) (5/2 BetVictor)
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