This year’s renewal of the two mile championship finale at The Cheltenham Festival is guaranteed to be a fascinating spectacle. No less than three previous winners of the race are set to line up in front of the tape at 3.30pm on Wednesday 16th March. The young pretender and last year’s impressive Arkle winner, Un De Sceaux, leads the market with almost prohibitive best odds of 8/11 at Stan James. Considering the potential quality he is up against, this seems a poor betting option. Nonetheless, this is a horse who has won every race he has completed in his career. His five length beating of 2014 champion Sire De Grugy at Ascot last time out, is clearly the two mile form of the season. Judging by his measured jumping and acceleration just after the final fence in last year’s Arkle, he is also confirmed as a Cheltenham horse through and through. Add Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh into the mix and you have the complete Festival short-priced superstar. However, the Champion Chase is a true test of jumping which takes no prisoners. He must put in another bold round of high class jumping to justify his odds-on status and there will be plenty of others ready to capitalise on any misgivings. At the relative young age of 8, he’s still learning and not certain to get everything his own way as he did in the Arkle. He is also prone to the occasional fall, as witnessed at Leopardstown last December.
Can Sprinter Sacre step up?
The big question on everybody’s lips is whether Sprinter Sacre, once described as a “steeplechaser from the gods” by one excited racing commentator, is back to his glorious best. If that is the case, connections of Un De Sceaux should be rightfully concerned as this is no ordinary two mile chaser. His 2013 Champion Chase demolition job cemented his status as possibly the greatest two mile chaser to have graced the sport. After heart and back problems blighted his 2013-2014 season, he made a charismatic return to form at Cheltenham last November. His latest workmanlike beating of Sire De Grugy by half a length combined with the latest positive reports from Nicky Henderson’s yard, suggests that he may be somewhere back to his best. However, the recent form is difficult to assess. A fourteen length win over average rivals, albeit at Cheltenham, does little to inspire confidence. He will still need to improve again considerably to challenge Un De Sceaux up that punishing hill. Nevertheless, the old swagger and powerful galloping stride was certainly evident at Cheltenham: Sprinter Sacre could give outstanding value at 9/2 best priced with William Hill.
Will Vautour be entered into the Champion Chase?
The participation of Un De Sceaux’s stable mate, Vautour, is under speculation as he is more likely to opt for a greater test of stamina in The Gold Cup on Day 4 or The Ryanair Chase on Day 3. After making most of the running in the King George on Boxing Day, he was unlucky to lose to Cue Card by a short head. The King George performance is solid form in this context, as a decent King George run can often translate into winning form for any races up to two miles five furlongs at Cheltenham. Vantour is most certainly not to be discounted if he does run in the Champion Chase. He is a very tempting 10/1 with Stan James, although backers should beware that this is a full anti-post option: non-runner no bet does not apply. Otherwise he is a safer 3/1 (NRNB) with several firms (Bet 365, William Hill, and Betfred)
Dodging Bullets – last year’s champion!
Last year’s champion Dodging Bullets has not had the most ideal preparation and was disappointing in his late seasonal reappearance at Newbury recently. Finishing 10 lengths behind Top Gamble is not winning form and will need to improve dramatically to have any say in the business end of this race. His trainer, Paul Nicholls, admitted beforehand that if he didn’t win the Newbury race, Dodging Bullets would unlikely be able to compete effectively with the likes of Un De Sceaux and Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham. The same can be said of the chances of Sire De Grugy, who looks very exposed after having been beaten by both Sprinter and Un De Sceaux this season. Dodging Bullets is easy to back with best odds at 12/1 with William Hill, Stan James, and Paddy Power. Sire De Grugy also east at 14/1 with bet365. However, these will be decent anti-post each way odds if taken before Vautour is withdrawn from the betting.
The best of the rest.
Traditionally, this race has been a poor choice for backing outsiders with 12 of the last 15 winners having started at 5/1 or less. Caution should be exercised with any of the lesser fancied runners, especially considering the prestige and quality of the first four of the betting in this year’s renewal. If tempted to have a £2 each way fun flutter, it wouldn’t be foolish to pounce on God’s Own best priced at 33/1 with bet365, Betfred, Ladbrokes. It’s easy to forget that he was a creditable six lengths behind Un De Sceaux in last year’s Arkle and despite a less than satisfactory showing this season, he may improve to offer some value. He is also entered in the Ryanair Chase at the same price.
Whatever happens, those who are passionate about the game will be rubbing their hands with nostalgic glee if Sprinter Sacre is upsides Un De Sceaux going over the last, resulting in a deafening roar from the Prestbury Park stands that will be heard far and beyond.
Full Champion Chase Odds (Best Priced Odds):
Un De Sceaux: 8/11 with Stan James
Sprinter Sacre: 7/2 with William Hill
Vautour: 10/1 with Stan James
Dodging Bullets: 12/1 with William Hill
Special Tiara: 14/1 with bet365
Sire De Grugy: 14/1 with bet365
Felix Yonger: 16/1 with Coral
Sizing Granite: 33/1 with BetVictor
God’s Own: 33/1 with bet365
Champagne Fever: 33/1 with William Hill
Somersby: 66/1 with Stan James
Just Cameron: 100/1 with bet365
Clarcam: 100/1 with Paddy Power
Mozoltov: 100/1 with bet365
Twinlight: 100/1 with bet365
Bright New Dawn: 100/1 with BetVictor