The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival. The race is run over two miles and the equine speedsters jump a total of twelve fences.
There has been some superstar Champion Chasers since the turn of the century with Viking Flagship, Moscow Flyer, and Master Minded being particularly impressive double winners of the race. Other famous names to have won the Queen Mother of late include Sizing Europe (2011) and of course Sprinter Sacre, who famously regained his crown in 2016 with a famous performance for Nicky Henderson.
Ten runners go to post on Wednesday afternoon and here is a runner-by-runner guide to their chances:
The brilliant seven-year-old is unbeaten in 13 starts since joining Willie Mullins and is nine from nine over fences. Winner of the 2016 Arkle Chase, he has looked unstoppable again this season and barring a mishap he should take his first Cheltenham Festival Championship Race with ease. It will be one of the biggest shocks in Festival history if he does not complete a Festival hat-trick and win his 14th consecutive race in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Douvan represents equine perfection and, with a rating of 174, will officially be the highest rated horse in action this week. That mark probably under-rates him in all honesty with Willie Mullins suggesting he could be the best horse he has ever trained.
The seven-year-old made an impressive start for Colin Tizzard when landing the Shloer Chase at Prestbury Park in November, but was then sidelined by injury for three months. He proved no match for Altior on his comeback run in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury, but connections are confident he will raise his game at the Festival. On the best of his form he looks the only conceivable danger to the mighty Douvan but he will need to find 8lbs of improvement from somewhere. Fox Norton was a facile winner at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting when trained by Neil Mulholland and at a later point was bought for an undisclosed sum by Alan Potts and sent to Colin Tizzard. He looks sure to be in the frame.
Garde La Victoire
Philip Hobbs’ ten-year-old is a four time Grade One winner but it would come as a major shock if he increased that tally to five in this race. He is rated 158 so clearly smart in his own right, winning his latest start at Sandown in a competitive looking handicap off top weight. He does however have to find 8lbs with Fox Norton so what he has to find with Douvan is herculean. His jumping is of concern too as he has a tendency to jump out to the left and he has fallen twice over fences, one of them being here at Cheltenham.
He finished fourth in last year’s renewal of the Champion Chase behind Sprinter Sacre and then went on to beat Vautour in the Irish Champion Chase at Punchestown a month later. This season he was second in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree on his seasonal reappearance then came third at Ascot in a Grade 2 in November. He was back to his best when a close third behind Un De Sceaux and Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek in December. Tom George and Adrian Heskin have had some decent winners together this season and God’s Own looks ready to put in a good spin.
The ten-year-old has not been disgracing himself in some top quality races of late but he simply cannot hold a flame to the likes of Douvan now. He was well beaten in the Shloer Chase by Fox Norton and his third at Leopardstown in a Grade One behind Douvan (beaten 15 lengths) leaves him with a lot to do.
Sir Valentino won the Haldon Gold Cup on his seasonal reappearance at Exeter in November, running on gamely to just nab Garde la Victoire close home. Following on from that he was fifth in the Tingle Creek when running on late and he was far from disgraced when pushing Special Tiara all the way in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton last time out. Apparently a flood of wagers came in for Tom George’s runner just after Valentine’s Day from a number of punters in France. Do they know something we don’t or are they just hopeless romantics?
The nine-year-old has not been at his best this season since joining Colin Tizzard, pulling up at Cheltenham in the BetVictor Gold Cup in November on his seasonal reappearance. Back down in trip over hurdles, he was again well beaten at Taunton last month. Has showed nothing that would encourage anyone to have a wild each-way punt on him and it is probably best to look elsewhere for value.
Special Tiara has been placed in the last two renewals of the Champion Chase and is quietly fancied in some quarters to be in the frame once again. He won the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in December when just holding off Sir Valentino, but weakened quickly here in January in the Clarence House Chase which was a disappointing effort. The ten-year-old will once again force the pace of the race but you do feel that he will be a sitting duck that will be picked off late in the day again.
Kerry Lee has supplemented Top Gamble, a Grade Two winner at Fairyhouse a year ago and a good third to Un de Sceaux on his last start, for a crack at the two-mile title. He is probably unlikely to get the ground he requires and even with Davy Russell aboard he will struggle to challenge the principles in this.
Traffic Fluide is a lightly raced seven-year-old for trainer Gary Moore who showed some very promising form last season finishing third in the 2016 Clarence House at Ascot in January . He suffered a setback towards the end of last season and returned this campaign with a fourth placing behind Altior in the Game Spirit Chase. He was then tailed off behind Cue Card last time out. It is hard to ignore that last run but he could also be one to write off at your peril.
A highly unoriginal choice but Douvan is without doubt one of the so called “bankers” of the week and looks all set to capture this Champion Chase title.
With restricted odds available about the favourite forecast backers will be searching for who will chase him home. Fox Rock and God’s Own look like the prime candidates to fill that runner-up spot.