Cheltenham specialist Champagne Fever to score Festival hat-trick

Bill Esdaile
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Champagne Fever can avenge last year’s unlucky Arkle defeat

THE BETWAY Champion Chase (3.20pm) is quite simply the race of this year’s Festival. There are so many potential stories and the build-up, with injury concerns about the last two champions, has created a huge buzz.

Sprinter Sacre is probably the most talented racehorse we have seen for a very long time. Despite that, The Black Aeroplane hasn’t won for almost two years, and his reappearance at Ascot left as many questions as it did answers.

Nicky Henderson thinks his stable star is back. But the truth of the matter is no-one will know until Barry Geraghty presses the button up the home straight.

Sire De Grugy was a ready winner 12 months ago, yet he has had problems of his own too, jumping poorly in the Game Spirit at Newbury. Gary Moore decided he needed more match practice and the decision to send him to Chepstow last month was vindicated with a brilliant weight-carrying performance.

Betway have been following Sire De Grugy’s progress over the past few months. He warmed up for today’s event with a trip to West Wittering beach, which he clearly loved. The firm will refund all losing bets as a free bet up to £50 if he wins today.

It would be a fantastic story if he could do it, but he’s short enough at 3/1. There are also plenty of question marks to take him on at that price.

Dodging Bullets is the obvious form choice, following his victories in the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase. But I just can’t warm to his chances.

He has never shown his best form at Cheltenham and he normally runs best in the early part of the season rather than in the spring. I’ll be opposing him on the Sporting Index win index.

The one horse who doesn’t have any worries when it comes to Festival form is Willie Mullins’ CHAMPAGNE FEVER. I’m taking this dashing grey, therefore, to notch his third win at this meeting.

He really should have already done the hat-trick as he looked like the winner of last year’s Arkle Chase for the whole race, before being run down by the outsider Western Warhorse in the shadow of the winning post.

I’ve watched re-runs of that race many times in the past year and I still can’t quite understand how he got beat.

This season has been a little up and down for Rich Ricci’s runner, with decent wins at Clonmel and Gowran Park split by a fourth in the King George and a fall at the last against Don Cossack in the Kinloch Brae Chase.

He is dropping back to two miles this afternoon, but that has never been a problem in the past. He is a decent each-way bet at 11/2 with Betway.

Mr Mole is seemingly a reformed character this campaign. However, I struggle to see how a horse beaten in last year’s Grand Annual will be good enough to come back and win the big one the following season.

Special Tiara is interesting as he is going to go off like a scolded cat, if he repeats the tactics of his Kempton run.

But that will only play into the hands of Champagne Fever - and I expect Ruby Walsh to sit in behind before pouncing late on.

■ Pointers…
CHAMPAGNE FEVER e/w 3.20pm Cheltenham

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