For my money, there is no more thrilling race in the National Hunt calendar than the Champion Chase, which incorporates 12 fences in what is usually a flat-out test over 2-miles.
The ability to travel at speed is a great help, but just the tiniest of jumping mistakes can leave horses chasing shadows, and leave them with nothing in the tank to finish strongly up the Cheltenham hill.
Jockey Barry Geraghty, with 5 wins, is the winning-most jockey and has won it on four different horses since 2005. The last two of those were for trainer Nicky Henderson (2012, 2013), who also won it way back in 1992. However, Paul Nicholls is the winning most current trainer with four victories.
This year’s renewal may see the last four winners of the race line-up, and it is one of the most interesting renewals of recent times. Here’s our low-down of some of the more fancied runners.
Sprinter Sacre 3/1
The 2013 Champion bids to become the third horse to regain his title after losing it the year before, but has had a catalogue of problems over the last couple of years. However, he travelled beautifully on his seasonal debut at Ascot on heavy ground he wouldn’t have liked before understandably tiring close home. Rated far superior to any of his rivals at his peak and could definitely win again. However, with all his documented problems, I’d sooner back him on the day than risk an ante-post investment. Barry Geraghty rides.
Sire De Grugy 9/2
Last year’s champion is clear second-best on the ratings, but is another to have struggled with injury this year. Due to have a prep race at Newbury in February, and it’s pointless backing him before he runs there.
Dodging Bullets 5/1
Seemingly made rapid progress in his last two runs; winning the Tingle Creek and the Clarence House. Both of those wins where on soft ground though and he’s yet to place at three runs at the Cheltenham festival.
Champagne Fever 8/1
Kept up his usual routine of being a bit hit and miss throughout the year, but has run brilliantly at the festival for three consecutive years. Winner of the bumper in 2012, the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2013 (beating Jezki and My Tent Or Yours) and just pipped in last year’s Arkle. Could well take advantage if the front two in the market aren’t as good as they were. Ruby Walsh rides.
Al Ferof 10/1
Won the Supreme Novice Hurdle at the festival in 2011, but was miles behind Sprinter Sacre in the 2012 Arkle. Won some good races over 2½ miles since, and could stay on into a place.
His two runs at Cheltenham have been the best of his career, with a second in last year’s JLT Chase and a win in this season’s Schloer Chase to his name. He beat Dodging Bullets into third in the Schloer and looks over-priced on that form.
Simply Ned 25/1
The Gordon Richards stable won this with One Man, and they’ll be praying for good ground in March. Split Uxizandre and Dodging Bullets in the Schloer and has room for improvement.
Sizing Europe 50/1
Finished 1/2/2/4 in the last four renewals but surely can’t turn back the clock and win this at the age of 13. However, did give Gold Cup second favourite Road To Riches 4lb and a beating over 20 furlongs in October, and may well run with credit again.
If the 3/1 Sprinter Sacre is available on the day of the race, I’ll be having plenty on. However, with so many doubts about the principals, the ante-post bets have to be the over-priced Uxizandre and Simply Ned each-way, with a place for either making us a profit.
1 point each-way Uxizandre @ 16/1
1 point each-way Simply Ned @ 25/1