Ante-Post Preview of the Champion Chase and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – With the setbacks and injuries that have befallen the highest rated horse in the world – Sprinter Sacre, the market for the Queen Mother Champion Chase has suddenly become far more attractive from a betting point of view. With the uncertainties that still surround Sprinter Sacre’s wellbeing and fitness, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate the potential runners in an attempt to find the race value.
Still the clear market favourite, Sprinter Sacre (1/1 – Betfred) has been recovering from an irregular heartbeat which saw him pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton. He is likely to reappear at Newbury racecourse (weather permitting) to parade 15 minutes before racing commences as part of his rehabilitation. He is back in regular work at Seven Barrows and many expect him to have a race course gallop within the next couple of weeks before he makes he way to Cheltenham to defend his Champion Chase crown. Undoubtedly, this horse’s position at the head of the market is justified considering the impressive form he has shown throughout his career over the larger obstacles. However, in terms of value and a good betting proposition his odds are far too prohibitive to warrant any interest from me. If he returns in full health and rediscovers his past form then he will prove very difficult to beat, however that ‘if’ is at the moment quite sizeable. Without a doubt, if he does go on to contest this race he will be at his most vulnerable and many will fancy their chances now there is a chink in his armour.
Looking to his likely opposition, the obvious challenge will come from Sire De Grugy (11/4 William Hill). In the absence of the ‘black aeroplane’ this horse has taken full advantage of his opportunity and claimed the Tingle Creek, Desert Orchid and Clarence House Chases. The latter of those victories was by far the most impressive as he beat a useful field by 11 lengths on heavy ground that really wouldn’t have suited him. He holds many of the horses still entered on this season’s form and, should Sprinter Sacre not turn up, he will be a short priced favourite.
Nevertheless, Sire De Grguy has been beaten this season in the Shloer Chase where he fell foul of the Cheltenham hill and of Kid Cassidy (16/1 BetVictor). This JP McManus owned horse was given a fantastic ride by AP McCoy to collar Sire De Grugy on the run-in and move away by 3 lengths. Despite this, the eventual runner-up had to concede 10lbs to the winner so remained the best horse in the race at the weights. Kid Cassidy remains an extremely tricky ride and very unpredictable (as evidenced in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown where he was beaten by 60 lengths) so it would be a massive surprise to see him beat Sire De Grugy once again.
Third in the market is one of the potential Irish challengers, Benefficient (10/1 Coral). This horse won the Jewson Novices’ Chase last year beating the likes of Captain Conan and Dynaste in the process. With the doubts surrounding Sprinter Sacre he was entered in this 2m contest but judging by the strength of the market support for his participation in the Ryanair, that looks the most likely target. He looked like a strong stayer when winning at last year’s Festival and I wouldn’t really fancy his chances against speedier types if he were to line up here.
One Irish challenger I am interested in is ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE (16/1 Coral), a horse with plenty of talent but one long thought to struggle when going left-handed. This Willie Mullins’ runner is unbeaten going right-handed at Punchestown in his career and has racked up three impressive Graded victories so far this season. The last of which came at his beloved Punchestown on heavy ground over 2m where he dispatched his three rivals with contempt. He travelled up with the pace and comfortably moved himself into the lead in the final stages, his jumping was big and bold and he looked effortless the entire way round. In terms of form at Cheltenham he contested last season’s Arkle Trophy Chase but was pulled up after not travelling nor jumping with his customary ease. Many will refer to that form as a good enough reason to pass over this horses’ chances in the Champion Chase but at the current odds available I would consider that very foolish. Both Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins are keen to send this horse back to Cheltenham and class the Champion Chase as the ideal race for him. Although seen to best effect going right-handed his jumping overall has improved this season as he has learnt to jump straight and true. His ability to stay further than 2m (a four-times winner over 2m4f) will be a huge asset as will his ability to handle any sort of ground.
Beyond Arvika Ligeonniere we have a number of horses the likes of Hidden Cyclone (16/1 BetVictor), Somersby (20/1 William Hill) and Captain Conan (12/1 Betfred) who have all been beaten by Sire De Grugy this season. It is very difficult to make a case for any of them turning the form around with the Gary Moore trained runner and the market accurately reflects that.
In terms of looking for an alternative to Sprinter Sacre, the obvious horse is Sire De Grugy. However as he has already been beaten at Cheltenham this season, when his stamina reserves seemingly emptied up the Cheltenham hill, I’m happy to look elsewhere. In the hope that he handles Cheltenham better than he has done in the past, I really like the chances and price of ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE. This horse has plenty of speed and brings good strong Irish form into the race. The fact he stays further than 2m and handles all types of ground are two massive positives and he could well take the lead and make sure Sire De Grugy and the rest are truly tested. There is no better trainer than Willie Mullins when it comes to ironing out jumping issues and ignoring the uncharacteristic error he made on his penultimate start his jumping has been very impressive. There is plenty of each-way value on offer in his price and, as he is certain (barring set-backs) to line up, he will be a lot shorter in the betting come the Festival.
ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE (E/W) (16/1 Coral)
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