In this part we have looked at the Championship Chase races of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, The Ryanair Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Un De Sceaux is a short priced odds on favourite and probably wins this race if he gets round however 2 falls on CV are the concern.
Un De Sceaux won the Arkle Chase last year at the Cheltenham Festival and ended his season winning the Ryanair Chase at Punchestown over 2 miles. He returned this season with the Champion Chase in mind and ran in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown but ran a bit keenly and fell at the 2nd last. Many people then noticed how the horse who came to a stand still after that fall, got up, sprinted after the others and passed the post before his rivals albeit without Ruby on board. He then came across to Ascot and ran in the Clarence House where he took on Sire De Grugy. Always travelling well at the front he quickened clear into the last and won going away without Ruby ever really getting serious. On this form line with Sire De Grugy he should have both he and Sprinter Sacre beat and if he gets round will be very hard to catch.
Sprinter Sacre was former king of the 2m chases and won the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase beating Sizing Europe by 19 lengths. After winning the Irish Champion Chase in 2013 he returned in late 2013 but pulled up with a heart problem and despite a good 2nd on his long awaited return in 2015 he pulled up again in the Champion Chase last year and it looked like he would be retired. Kept in training he returned this season at Cheltenham in the Shloer Chase where he won very impressively and looked a bit more like his former self. His most recent run was at Kempton in the Desert Orchid Chase where he took on Sire De Grugy and despite appearing to be beat 2 out he rallied and got up to beat Sire De Grugy by ½ length. This 2m at Kempton looks sharp enough for him now and he should be better back at Cheltenham where we expect him to confirm placings with Sire De Grugy and looks to be the chief threat to Un De Sceaux.
Vautour is entered in this race, the Ryanair and the Gold Cup and this race looks the least likely place he will end up. If he did however then his form looks very strong including when winning at Cheltenham last year in the JLT Chase when his jumping was superb and he put the others in trouble with his jumping. He would be a real threat for Un De Sceaux because he could take that one out of his comfort zone and test his jumping however with Willie Mullins training both it looks like they will be kept apart.
Dodging Bullets won this race last year when beating Somersby, Special Tiara, Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre although how many of those performed to there is questionable. He hasn’t run this season but connections are hopeful they can get him back in time for the Cheltenham Festival and if he ran to his best then he may well run a decent race and could well run a place but without fitness on his side, it looks doubtful that he could beat Un De Sceaux.
Special Tiara is a solid Champion Chase hopeful but doesn’t look like the winner. He finished 3rd in this race in 2015 before going to Sandown where he beat Sprinter Sacre. Returning this season he went to Navan where he looked like he needed the run when only 4th to Hidden Cyclone and well beaten before running much better at Sandown. He jumped really well that day and came to the last with a great chance but Sire De Grugy jumped across him and checked his momentum and despite rallying he finished a ½ length 2nd. Some feel he should have been awarded this in the Stewards Room but he wasn’t and he hasn’t been seen since. With Sire De Grugy being beaten by Sprinter Sacre and more impressively by Un De Sceaux the form line probably shows that Special Tiara is a bit behind those and a place looks his best chance.
Sire De Grugy won the Champion Chase in 2014 when beating Somersby before winning the Celebration Chase at Sandown in the April. Since then however his form has been somewhat indifferent and again injuries have caused disruption to his career. After only finishing 4th in this race last year he then fell at Aintree in a race won by Don Cossack. Returning this season he finished well beaten 3rd in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter but bounced back when beating Special Tiara in the Tingle Creek at Sandown albeit despite jumping across him at the last. Since then however he has been beaten twice, once by Sprinter Sacre who rallied to get back up and back at Cheltenham it would probably be more suited to Sprinter Sacre confirming these placings and then Sire De Grugy was beaten at Ascot even easier by Un De Sceaux. The formlines suggest that Un De Sceaux and Sprinter Sacre should be the first 2 whilst any number could be challenging for 3rd.
Barring accident this looks like a race for Un De Sceaux and if he jumps around like last year he could blow the opposition away. His biggest danger looks to be Vautour however he is unlikely to run so it probably turns to Sprinter Sacre if he is fit. Dodging Bullets could run well and will be challenging with a number of them split by very fine margins.
Vautour is the favourite for this and as short as Even money in places however connections have been suggesting that the Gold Cup is the target and he probably won’t be running in this race.
Vautour won the JLT Novices Chase last year in very impressive fashion when beating Apache Stronghold by 15 lengths. Up to this point, some people had cramped his jumping however he was electric at Cheltenham and was one of the most impressive performances at the festival. After winning at Cheltenham he didn’t run until November when he made his comeback at Ascot in a Grade 2 chase against Ptit Zig and others. In receipt of 5lb he jumped left handed at a few of his fences whilst also making a bad blunder at one of the fences but eventually got the better of Ptit Zig. He needed to improve for this run and his 2nd run in the King George proved that this run had brought him on when he was just outstayed by Cue Card when finishing 2nd by a head. Ruby has since blamed himself and feels he went too early but if he was outstayed then this Ryanair looks the ideal target however as mentioned connections are suggesting the Gold Cup is his target.
Road To Riches finished 3rd in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham before filling the same spot at Punchestown behind Don Cossack. He returned this season at Clonmel over 2m4f where he took on some smart horses in a Grade 2 event including Felix Yonger and Bright New Dawn. He jumped well and despite racing lazily when in front he was always in command and won by 6 lengths. He then went to Leopardstown for the Irish Gold Cup and was sent off just 5/4 for this race. He was put into the race very early and looked beat 2 out when Valseur Lido eased past, despite this one falling at the last Road To Riches didn’t have the stamina to go on and win the race and finished a well beaten 2nd to Carlingford Lough who came from a long way back to win decisively. With the strength in depth to the Gold Cup this year and this run not showing Road To Riches to possess the ability that is probably required then this easier race looks more his target.
Al Ferof finished 5th in this race in 2014 but skipped the Cheltenham Festival last year and went straight to Aintree where he finished a well beaten 5th. A subsequent 2nd at Sandown was a good run behind Menorah but connections felt it was time for a change and he was moved to Dan Skelton’s. His first run back for Dan Skelton came at Huntingdon in the Peterborough Chase and was just about getting on top when Ptit Zig fell at the last. He therefore won easily and was then back at Kempton for the King George. He once again ran a great race over this distance that probably stretches his stamina and he finished 3rd for the 2nd successive year. He is now going back to the Ryanair and is the only horse in the first 5 or 6 in the betting that is definitely running in this race. He should go close this year and with Dan Skelton now training he may improve on his 5th place from 2014.
Vroum Vroum Mag was a surprise entry in this race having been campaigned over hurdles this season and the Mares Hurdle or the World Hurdle looked more likely. She has probably been thought of now that Vautour looks like he is going for the Gold Cup and this would leave a space for Vroum Vroum Mag here. Her form over fences is very good with 6 wins from 6 races since running in Ireland however these have all been in Mares only races. She very readily beat Burn and Turn in April 2015 however Burn and Turn had previously been well beaten in a handicap at Cheltenham. It may be that Vroum Vroum Mag may not be good enough against the boys and may find a few too good here.
Valseur Lido finished 3rd in the JLT Novices Chase last year behind Vautour but was well beaten and a step up in distance looked on the cards. After then being beaten again at Fairyhouse by Gilgamboa and others he was then stepped up in distance to 3m1f and won the Champion Novice Chase beating Wounded Warrior and regular rival Apache Stronghold with Don Poli further back in 5th. Returning this season over 2m4f he was well beaten by Gold Cup hopeful Djakadam and then went to Kempton for the King George. He never really any sort of race and fell at the last when well beaten. His most recent run was over 3m at Leopardstown in the Irish Gold Cup on heavy going and looked to still on the bridle when falling at the last. Ruby Walsh has subsequently said he would have won and this surely points to a 3m race or futher being ideal and this Ryanair might be a bit on the short side.
Vibrato Valtat finished 4th in last years Arkle behind Un De Sceaux but probably paid the price for attempting to go with this undeniably classy sort. After this run he finished a good 2nd at Aintree and then 4th at Sandown but they were his 8th and 9th runs of the season and he may well have been over the top. This season he won on his return when beating Gods Own, Third Intention, Dunraven Storm and Sire De Grugy in the Haldon Gold Cup but has been well beaten in 3 subsequent runs with the winners being Sire De Grugy, Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux and with all 3 likely to line up in the Champion Chase it seems foolish to take them on again. With this in mind he is likely to be stepped up in distance for this Ryanair Chase or miss the festival all together. His only previous attempt at 2m4f+ was at Aintree but may have been over the top by then and with just 4 runs under his belt this season he may be a bit more lively in this race.
Village Vic could come here or go down the handicap route. Village Vic has been in great form this season winning 3 handicaps which has seen his mark rise from 125 to 153 and a run in this race may be justified now. His last 2 runs have both come at Cheltenham over 2m4f 166y and he has made all in both. Jumping with great fluency he has been able to control the race before battling bravely late on to win by 3 lengths on his most recent start. A mark of 153 would see him carry nearly top weight in whichever handicap he ran in and it may turn out that this Ryanair becomes depleted with the potential that all of Vautour, Road To Riches, Vroum Vroum Mag, Valseur Lido and Vibrato Valtat do not run here. If this was the case then Village Vic would be a tough horse to pass in this race.
Dynaste is a horse that we like and feel he should definitely be aimed at this race. Since winning this race in 2014 when quickening past his rivals late he has failed to win in 8 races of which only his run in France over hurdles was over this distance. All of his other runs have come over 3 miles and further and despite travelling well in most he fails to pick up and looks like he gets tired late on and doesn’t stay. The drop back in distance would prove ideal and running here could see him bounce back to his best. His form over 2m4-2m5 over fences reads 1121 and it seems a no brainer to come back to this distance.
Vautour would surely take all the beating were he to run in this race however it looks like he will be running in the Gold Cup. This is confusing bookmakers with him being as short as even money whilst as big as 9/2 for this race! Al Ferof could well be the safest bet option in this race and you would expect him to run well whilst Village Vic could continue improving were he to line up. Dynaste is another who should run here and would have a great chance on his old form particularly in a race where many at the head of the market are not likely to run.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
This could be one of the hottest Gold Cup’s in recent years and it’s just a shame that reigning champion is injured and will not be back to defend his crown.
Don Cossack is the highest rated horse in Britain and heads the market for this race. After an indifferent Novice campaign he improved no end last season and won 4 races on the trot before running in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. He ran a decent race for 3rd but clearly showed that he needed further when rallying after getting outpaced and meeting trouble at the 2nd last. His next run at Aintree he showed his class again though over 2m4f when easily beating Cue Card. He then improved on this again when winning the Punchestown Gold Cup easily beating Djakdam, Road To Riches and Cue Card. Returning this season he won his first 2 races over 3 miles and 2 miles 7 furlongs in very easy fashion before running in the King George. Despite getting outpaced and nudged along he picked up well and was closing on Vautour and Cue Card and was even going past Cue Card whn falling at the 2nd last. It’s unclear how he would have affected the result but had he stayed up we feel he would have won. He returned to Thurles afterwards for a confidence booster and despite racing lazily he won by 9+ lengths from Wounded Warrior and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham looks like the perfect race for him.
Vautour as mentioned above is also entered in the Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase but connections have been suggesting this is his intended target. The unknown would be whether he would stay this far and if it was stamina that he lacked at Kempton when being caught late on by Cue Card then this distance wont suit him anymore. He has to be respected however and his form at Cheltenham is very good with an easy win in the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2014 and a hugely impressive jumping display in 2015 when winning the JLT Novices Chase. By Robin Des Champs he should stay this far as proven by Sir Des Champs and Un Temps Pour Tout to a degree but it would have been nice to see him tested over this distance before the festival.
Djakadam is another horse owned by Rich Ricci and if he does decide that the Ryanair suits Vautour more, then Djakadam should be able to do connections justice in this race as he proved last year when a 6 year old. He finished just 1 ½ lengths behind Coneygree in 2nd and with that race under his belt he should know to keep up at a crucial stage. Since finishing 2nd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, he filled the same spot in the Punchestown Gold Cup behind Don Cossack when beaten 7 lengths. His return this season over 2m4f was very good when easily accounting for Valseur Lido and he was made to work for this win by the loose horse as Ruby didn’t realise it didn’t have a jockey on. He came over to England and ran at Cheltenham in January on his final prep run for the Gold Cup and had been jumping and travelling really well before he fell at the 10th and sustained a superficial wound. If this doesn’t knock his confidence then he should be back for the Gold Cup and he should run a big race. Whether he can reverse the form with Don Cossack is the question thought.
Don Poli won the RSA Chase here at the Festival last year before disappointing when 5th of 5 at Punchestown however this must have been a blip and his 2 runs this season and have been wins but not by big distances. His first run back this season came at Aintree where his saddle slipped from an early stage and that could have been part of the reason for a hard work looking win. A win nevertheless. After this he went to Leopardstown for the Lexus Chase and although winning it wasn’t pretty. He was made to work really hard by First Lieutenant and Foxrock however it may be that Don Poli only just does enough. He needed riding along in the RSA Chase last year before running on really well up the hill and he may be a horse for a National in the future. He might have been better equipped for this race had Coneygree been in it and setting a really strong pace but he can’t be ruled out and looks a very talented horse.
Cue Card won the Ryanair Chase in 2014 but didn’t run at the Festival in 2015 and his last 2 runs of last season were at Aintree and Punchestown where he was 2nd and 4th respectively with Don Cossack winning both. Being beaten a long way in both would be a worry although he does look to have improved this season. He made his return at Wetherby where he beat Dynaste in the Charlie Hall Chase, he then won at Haydock beating Silviniaco Conti and then won for the 3rd time this season when beating Vautour in the King George and is in line for the £1million pound bonus should he win the Gold Cup. It may well transpire however that he has beaten 3 non-stayers and against those that certainly do in Don Cossack, Djakadam and Don Poli he will likely find things much tougher, that said his Cheltenham Festival form of 1421 can’t be ignored and he should still run a good race but may not be good enough to win here.
Smad Place has always been held in high regard and has placed in 2 World Hurdles before turning his attention to chasing. He had a disappointing season last season which culminated in finishing 8th in the Gold Cup but has come back this season a much better horse. An easy winner on his return at Kempton where he beat a good horse in Fingal Bay he then went to Newbury where he spread-eagled the field in the Hennessy beating them by 12 lengths. A run at the sharp Kempton track in the George didn’t appear to suit but he was also not allowed lead or at the very least sit alongside the leader and he could only finish 4th. He went to Cheltenham in January where once Djakadam had fallen he didn’t really have any Gold Cup horses to beat but he won going away by 12 lengths and his trainer has now decided this is the race for him.
With Vautour a potential non-stayer whilst Cue Card may have only beaten non-stayers it may pay too look away from these two. Don Cossack may well have won the King George had he not fallen and if he had then he would be a clear favourite for this race. Don Poli is obviously very talented but may need riding from a long way out and may not get the chance to respond against some talented opposition. Djakadam should bounce back from his fall and is sure to go close but has a bit to find to reverse the form with Don Cossack.
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Our next blog we will look at the Foxhunters Chase, Champion Bumper and some of the handicaps.