Sprinter Sacre currently heads the Campion Chase market as the long odds-on favourite despite having missed his planned reappearance in the Tingle Creek. With plenty of horses looking to establish themselves as genuine Champion Chase prospects its worth having a look at the current ante-post markets to see whether or not there is a betting alternative to the Black Aeroplane.
SPRINTER SACRE's (1/3 BetVictor) credentials, ability and ultimately his chance of regaining the Champion Chase crown are clear for all to see. The highest rated horse on Official Ratings and Timeform ratings, this 7-year old looked unbeatable last year over both 2m and 2m4f. Comfortably picking up victories in all three of the major spring festivals, bookmakers were quick to limit their liabilities for the 2014 renewal of the Champion Chase by installing him as a very short priced favourite. From what he showed last year, he has the class to destroy any field and has quickly become one of the greatest superstars of our sport across both codes. His withdrawal from the Tingle Creek was a disappointment however completely understandable given that connections would want to be careful with him. Clearly the best chaser in training his belated reappearance will tell us a lot about his level of fitness and training but expect him to be fully geared towards Cheltenham.
Away from the dazzling light of this star we have a selection of top-quality opponents who have the ability and potential to be multiple Grade 1 winners in their own right. Second in the market currently sits Simonsig (7/1 bet365). Yet to make his seasonal reappearance (due to a minor set-back), this second season chaser remained unbeaten as a Novice tackling a variety of distances between 2m and 2m3f. He was most impressive when smashing Hinterland by 35 lengths at Kempton on boxing day and, although not producing his best effort, he still won the Arkle as a strong odds-on favourite. His next port of call is as yet unknown as connections will be looking to make sure he is fully fit before sending him out. Undoubtedly this horse has plenty of talent, unfortunately thanks to being housed in the same stable as Sprinter Sacre he will most likely be kept apart from his stablemate which means the Ryanair will probably be his most likely Festival target.
Sire De Grugy (16/1 Ladbrokes) performed very well when winning the Tingle Creek and beating both Captain Conan (20/1 Betfred) and Somersby (25/1 BetVictor) in the process. His ability to travel and his skill over the large obstacles was evident that day and he could well thrive when faced again with the demanding nature of Cheltenham. Having suffered defeat at Cheltenham two starts ago, many will question the horse’s liking for the track but irrespective of the result he still jumped well in the main and lead coming over the last. He was collared by Kid Cassidy (16/1 Coral) who stayed on stronger and was in receipt of 10lbs on the day. Still with plenty of improvement to come it seems that the Moore family have a genuine Grade 1 horse on their hands and he could well be the biggest danger to Sprinter Sacre come March.
Over in Ireland the John Durkan Grade 1 chase at Punchestown was billed as a clash between three heavy weights of Irish jumps racing – Sir Des Champs, Flemenstar (14/1 Ladbrokes) and Arvika Ligeonniere (16/1 Coral). Sadly, Flemenstar was withdrawn prior to the race and Sir Des Champs fell at the third leaving his stablemate Arvika Ligeonniere to coast home to a facile victory. In terms of Champion Chase contenders both Arvika and Flemenstar are entered in the market, however the latter is certainly likely to be kept at 2m4f+ with an appearance in the Ryaniar a more likely prospect. As for the Willie Mullins trained Arvika Ligeonniere, this horse has an entry down in trip over 2m1f in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown. Depending on how well he handles himself in that race, he could well enter the reckoning as a realistic Champion Chase contender. He has bags of ability and looks like he jumps for fun. Concerns will remain with his ability to deal with Cheltenham (two outings so far in his career – pulled up on his latest appearance and lost by 27 lengths prior to that), however he would certainly add some real spice to the contest.
An outsider worth noting is definitely SIZING EUROPE (25/1 Betfred) who was able to finish second to Sprinter Sacre twice last year, the best of those efforts coming when only loosing out by five and half lengths at Punchestown. That result represented the best display any horse has managed against Sprinter Sacre over 2m over fences. This horse has a great record at Cheltenham and all ground seems to come alike to him. If connections choose to gear his campaign towards the Champion Chase and he reproduces his best form he is definitely one to consider as an each-way prospect.
Despite a number of good quality horses coming to the fore and picking up multiple graded contests it would be foolish, at this stage, to offer any sort of alternative to SPRINTER SACRE reclaiming his crown. We are fortunate enough to witness a horse close to equine perfection and it would be pointless to try to oppose him after what his main challengers have shown to date. Providing he stays healthy and his training goes to plan then is victory is almost a certainty. Many will want to take him on, but in all honesty I can think of far more entertaining ways to waste my money.
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