THE Sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase is always one of the most thrilling races of the National Hunt season, but this year’s renewal has already been written off as a poor contest. That is unfair on reigning champion Sizing Europe who slaughtered his rivals from the front in this race last year, following up his 2010 Arkle victory.
Henry De Bromhead’s 10-year-old has looked brilliant in his last two victories at Sandown and Punchestown and he clearly loves Cheltenham. The ground is going to be right up his street and Andrew Lynch will probably try to dictate things from the front, just as he did 12 months ago.
Sizing Europe is easily the most likely winner of the race, but he was 10/1 when we tipped him last year and is now a best price 10/11 with Coral. That is just too short for me and there are also a number of stats against him. Only one of the last 12 winners was aged 10 or older, while Master Minded is the only back-to-back winner since Viking Flagship in 1995.
He looks the perfect lay in-running on Betfair as he will surely trade very short if hitting a decent rhythm over his fences. Yes, he may well keep everything at bay, but the Cheltenham hill has found out good horses in the past and he could trade artificially short rounding the home bend.
Big Zeb was firmly put in his place by Sizing Europe at Punchestown last time, but that run was too bad to be true and is probably best ignored. That said, the 2010 champion is now 11 and he would have to replicate Moscow Flyer’s achievement of winning back his crown at the same age. Colm Murphy’s pride and joy should finish in the front three, but I’d be surprised if he can win.
Nicky Henderson last won this race in 1992 with the exceptional Remittance Man and many expect him to win it next year with Sprinter Sacre. However, I actually think he can land the prize this time with FINIAN’S RAINBOW, last year’s Arkle runner-up.
Michael Buckley’s nine-year-old was a decent novice chaser last term and most likely would have won the Arkle had he not gone off so quick in front. He appears to have calmed down quite a bit this season and although some were disappointed with his run behind Somersby in the Victor Chandler Chase, I actually thought it was a good performance.
Henderson has always loved Finian’s Rainbow and reports from the yard suggest he has been working really well. There is sure to be plenty of pace in this line-up and that should suit him perfectly. He used to always pull himself to the front, but I think Barry Geraghty will look to play his cards late and try to do the two Irish runners up the hill.
It’s a monumental task trying to beat Sizing Europe over this course and distance on this ground, but those who run well in the Arkle have an excellent record in this race. Coral are a best price 9/2 and that really is an each-way bet to nothing.
As for the rest, we are already on WISHFULL THINKING at 25/1 and that isn’t a bad bet seeing as he’s no bigger than 16/1 now. But, he has been a huge disappointment so far this campaign and Philip Hobbs isn’t sure he’s got to grips with his breathing yet. He should never be written off because he’s a very talented animal, but I’m not particularly confident.
Kauto Stone ran a shocker at Ascot last time when he was very keen and the quicker pace in this contest should rectify that problem. However, I think he needs soft ground and I’d be surprised if he has the tactical speed to stay with the top dogs coming down the hill. Realt Dubh, Gauvain and I’m So Lucky will all be trying to nick a place, but they will surely struggle to beat the market leaders.
The ‘will he, won’t he’ saga of whether Grands Crus will run in the RSA Chase or Gold Cup is finally over and connections have decided to keep him to the novice route. He was electric on his last start in the Feltham at Kempton when he won in a quicker time than Kauto Star’s King George. He has some excellent form at Cheltenham and will be many people’s idea of today’s banker.
However, the RSA is a notoriously tough race and they often go a muddling pace which isn’t likely to suit the strong-pulling seven-year-old. I also have my doubts as to whether he truly stays this 3m1f trip and at around 13/8 on Betfair, I’m happy to take him on.
So, who can beat him? The betting indicates BOBS WORTH is the most likely and I tend to agree. The son of Bob Back has been beaten on his last two starts, but he didn’t seem to enjoy going right-handed at Ascot and Kempton. He is three from three at Cheltenham, including last season’s Albert Bartlett, and this race has always looked like being the ideal test for him.
My main worry is his jumping because he hasn’t looked an absolute natural in his first three starts over fences, but he has been off to jumping expert Yogi Breisner and a return to Prestbury Park could be exactly what he needs. I’d be happy to side with Bobs Worth over Grands Crus in a match with Sporting Index anyway.
First Lieutenant is another Festival winner having landed last year’s Neptune, but he has been very disappointing so far over fences. However, he has shown his liking for Cheltenham and the better ground will suit, so he can’t be dismissed at around 7/1 on Betfair.
Join Together has excelled over this course this season and he looks very much an old school chaser. He is not dismissed at 6/1 with Coral, but I’m not sure he’ll have enough speed for this race on good ground.