Photo courtesy of RacehorsePhotos
By Charlie McCann
THE BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race of Ladies’ Day, the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Sire De Grugy is the 9/4 favourite with the sponsors and he really is the one to beat having won the two other Grade 1 Chases in Britain so far this season the BetVictor Tingle Creek and the Clarence House Chase earlier in the season.
He was no more than workmanlike to land the Sandown race but he impressed at Ascot last time, but both races were on his favoured soft ground and the question we all need to ask is will he be as effective on ground currently described as good to soft but drying out all the time?
Gary Moore’s stable star has run well in defeat on both previous runs at Cheltenham and the track is not a concern, but I just think he is vulnerable and one person who certainly knows what is takes to win the Champion Chase is jockey Barry Geraghty who has ridden the winner of the event no fewer than five times previously including last year with the brilliant Sprinter Sacre.
Geraghty rides Captain Conan (3.20) this afternoon and I believe if he would have been given his chance in last year’s Arkle he would have beaten a below par stablemate Simonsig. As it was he was asked to run in what is now the JLT Novices’ Chase where his stamina gave way over the 2m 5f trip.
The selection already holds a verdict over Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham and at 11/2 with BetVictor he can reward each way support in what is a fascinating but below par renewal.
The card starts with the Neptune Novices’ Chase and this might turn into a match between Faugheen(1.30) for Ireland and Red Sherlock for Britain and it is the former who gets the nod. In the build up to the race I have seldom heard such bullish noises about a horse although one could say the same thing 12-months ago when Pont Alexandre was well beaten behind The New One.
Unbeaten in five career starts Faugheen is considered special by a yard who are not known for calling geese swans but the David Pipe trained Red Sherlock will certainly give him a run for his money.
Red Sherlock is also unbeaten (six out of six) and is out of the wonderful mare Lady Cricket who was such a great servant for the late David Johnson in whose famous colours Red Sherlock will run. Tom Scudamore takes the ride and it will take a very good horse to lower his colours; but Faugheen could be just that.
It is rare that I have an opinion about the X Country race but this year I have supported both Star Neuville and Any Currency (4.00) with preference going to the latter who is entitled to come on for his debut over this unique course back in November when looking an unlucky loser. Today’s better ground will suit and, although he lacks the experience of this track that some possess, he can become only the second British-trained winner of the race. Note top-weight Balthazar’s King is the only British winner to date and the ground is coming right for him by the hour.
Ballycasey (2.05) can improve for the step up to 3m and can land the RSA Chase for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh; the selection has won both starts over the larger obstacles including over the minimum trip last time and, as a son of Presenting, this decent ground should suit.
Pat Fahey’s Morning Assembly is the type of grinder you need for this race but Ballycasey might have just too much class in what doesn’t look a vintage renewal of this Grade 1 contest.
My two against the field in the Fred Winter are Darwalan and Keltus (4.40) with marginal preference for the latter who has been off the track for three months and you get the impression that Paul Nicholls has been happy to protect his handicap mark during the period. He is going to be about a 25/1 chance with BetVictor and can reward each way support.
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