Irish outsider a decent bet to replace Tiara with Champion crown

Bill Esdaile
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SPRINTER Sacre’s defection from today’s BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.20pm) because of injury has robbed the Cheltenham Festival of one of its real stars. Nicky Henderson’s charge was breathtaking in this race last year and would have been impossible to oppose had he turned up in form.

Sadly, heart problems struck and the team at Seven Barrows feel “The Black Aeroplane” isn’t himself. That leaves us with 11 runners and I’ve struggled to find an angle on backing a horse. In fact, it’s more the case of who I don’t like, rather than who I do fancy.

Sire De Grugy is probably the one favourite the layers are really convinced they can get beaten. After Sprinter Sacre was confirmed an absentee, Gary Moore’s gelding was slashed into 5/4 favouritism but no-one wanted to back him and the eight-year-old drifted to as big as 11/4 earlier this week.

He’s back into 5/2 with Paddy Power and, while on form he’s the rightful favourite, the son of My Risk has twice been to Cheltenham and twice lost. He’s much better going right-handed – indeed eight of his 12 wins have been going clockwise and his last three defeats have been going the other way.

The Tingle Creek winner has also shown his best form on heavy ground and the faster conditions will put pressure on his jumping which hasn’t always been the most fluent around here. It would be great to see Sire De Grugy win for the father and son team of Gary and Jamie Moore, but at the prices I’m happy to look elsewhere.

Arvika Ligeonnaire is just not for me and I wouldn’t back him with your money. Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh enjoyed a good Tuesday but their hope here is too short on all known form. Another who has struggled badly going left-handed, Rich Ricci’s animal has been to the Festival twice – and both times been beaten out of sight.

Last year in the Arkle he was pulled up and, even though Walsh has said they will use “exciting new tactics”, my advice would be to sell the Irish raider on Sporting Index’s 50 Race Index.

The rest are much of a muchness. Kid Cassidy beat Sire De Grugy here in November, but is one of the greatest enigmas in racing and was tailed off on his last outing.

Henderson’s other runner Captain Conan is a four-time Grade One scorer, yet I’m not convinced he’s a real top-notcher and, at as short as 4/1, he’s not the one for me.

Instead, I’ve been looking for an each-way angle. Wishfull Thinking is no 33/1 shot, but he’s 11 now and it might be worth chancing

Henry de Bromhead also runs Festival veteran Sizing Europe and the 2011 winner of this contest, but he might be upstaged by his younger stablemate.

Special Tiara was a surprise winner of the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree last season, his last win, but he likes better ground and in an open race he’s worth supporting at 20/1 with Star Sports.

The cool Davy Russell is in the saddle and you can forgive his last run on testing ground at Punchestown when he set a fast pace and predictably faded.

His trainer doesn’t bring horses here for the fun of it and Special Tiara might just be able to cause another upset.

Special Tiara e/w 3.20pm Cheltenham

Sell Arvika Ligeonnaire on Sporting Index’s 50 Race Index