The first two in the betting for the Cheltenham Festival’s two-mile Champion Chase are both on the comeback trail after setbacks (3.20pm Wednesday live on Channel 4).
The first of those, trainer Nicky Henderson’s (pictured) Sprinter Sacre (3/1), has lost his aura of invincibility after missing almost all of last season with a much publicised heart problem. He finished second, beaten three lengths, behind Dodging Bullets at Ascot on his reappearance in January, but Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old is still disputing favouritism.
From a ratings point of view, Sprinter Sacre has 7lb in hand of his nearest rival, Sire De Grugy and, according to regular work rider Nico De Boinville, has ‘come on leaps and bounds since Ascot’. If he has improved for his reappearance, as might be expected, he clearly has every chance of repeating his win in this race in 2013 but, granted what he’s had to contend with, that’s quite a big ‘if’.
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Last year’s winner Sire De Grugy (3/1) has also had a less than ideal preparation, but looked at least as good as ever when jumping well to beat Grey Gold, who was receiving 20lb, by seven lengths in a four-runner handicap at Chepstow last month. Interestingly, Grey Gold also took on Dodging Bullets and Sprinter Sacre, at level weights, at Ascot in January. He finished last of the five runners, beaten 24 lengths, suggesting that Sire De Grugy may have the edge over Dodging Bullets.
Dodging Bullets (11/2) has shown progressive form this season, as suggested by his 16lb rise in the weights since November. His three-length defeat of Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House Chase over 2m1f at Ascot in January was, undoubtedly, his best effort yet. However separate form lines involving Grey Gold and last year’s runner-up, Somersby, suggest that he may struggle to beat Sire De Grugy at these weights.
Champagne Fever (6/1) finished 4¾ lengths ahead of Dodging Bullets when they were second and fourth in the Arkle Trophy at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, but is now rated 9lb inferior, rather than 2lb superior, to Paul Nicholls’ charge. He has been campaigned beyond two miles this season, including finishing fourth, beaten 10½ lengths, behind Silviniaco Conti in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, and has done most of his winning on soft and heavy ground. Nevertheless, his record at the Cheltenham Festival reads 211, so it would be dangerous to write him off.
Of those at longer odds, Mr. Mole (9/1) has officially improved by 18lb since falling in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase last year, but still has 6lb and upwards to find with the principals and the remainder appear to face very stiff tasks at the weights. That said, Somersby (40/1) has finished third in a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, second in an Arkle Trophy and second in this race over the years, so let’s hope he runs well again as an 11-year-old.
- For win purposes, Sire De Grugy looks the safest proposition, so our Champion Chase betting tips advice is to back Gary Moore’s nine-year-old SIRE DE GRUGY to win at best odds of 3/1 generally including with Bet365.