Wednesday’s feature at this year’s Cheltenham Festival is officially the Queen Mother Champion Chase but in truth it’s hard to get excited about the race.
The withdrawal of the reigning champion Sprinter Sacre has lowered the prestige of the race and the rivals behind him in the pecking order are hardly a top-class bunch.
This applies to most of the runners, perhaps bar Sire De Grugy, who leads the market at 2/1.
With no Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Flemenstar or Finian’s Rainbow in this seasons line up, Sire De Grugy looks set for a win in the Champion Chase. He put jockey Jamie Moore’s words to shame “It’s gutting as he’s probably not as good as we thought” after a race at Kempton last season.
This year he has won two Grade One’s and has fast become one of the most hardy and admirable horses currently in training.
His win in the Tingle Creek looks by far the best guide having featured nine of the last 13 winners.
He beat Somersby and Captain Conan there but his best performance came in the Clarence House when he absolutely annihilated Hidden Cyclone.
Perhaps these are not the most accurate guides for Sire De Grugy with Somersby exiting early and Hidden Cyclone was possibly not at his best racing right handed, but still his jumping and travelling was exquisite. His trainer has gone on record stating that he is a soft/heavy ground horse he did well on a sound surface at the Celebration Chase at Sandown last season, which makes it doubtful whether he’ll be at his best on good ground.
There are a plethora of horses in behind him in the market ready to strike and the best equipped of those look to be the Nicky Henderson-trained Captain Conan.
He was placed third at Sandown in December where he dropped away meekly at the last two fences, despite running like a very classy animal for most of the way. Lab results show that his blood levels were wrong and his potassium was erratic, so it might take some work to get in back in condition in time.
There is no question in his ability since he was won three Grade 1 novice chases last season in addition to conquering Sire De Grugy in a Grade 2. He also came in fifth at last season’s JLT and can be backed this year at 6/1.