Matt Tombs / Wednesday 5th February 2014 / 13:30
I love the Champion Chase. Seeing the best chasers going an all out gallop over 2m is just about my favourite part of the Festival. From the majestic demolition jobs by Sprinter Sacre and Master Minded, to Moscow Flyer beating 180 horses Azertyuiop and Well Chief with the impression he had more in the tank - the race often produces the moment of the Festival.
As the championships of racing, class generally comes to the fore at the Festival - but nowhere is that truer than in 2m level weights chases. How often have you seen the Champion Chase won by a horse that was outpaced and stays on past horses who've gone too quick? The fast horses that jump well on the day rarely come back to the field - class will out. If you can't go the gallop and jump at speed, you don't win.
I doubt I've seen a classier, faster chaser than the mighty Sprinter Sacre (11/10). If he'd had a clear run I'd be suggesting just enjoying watching him. However, he's had well documented problems and he won’t prove his well being by running beforehand. If he gets to the Festival in good enough form to run within a stone of last years romp - he wins. However there must be a serious doubt that he lines up at all, and if he does then nobody really knows what sort of form he's in. He’s 11/10 and I reckon he's little more than 50:50 to run and if he does he might easily bomb, so he can’t be value.
If the great champion can't perform, then the form pick is clearly Sire De Grugy, (11/4). His Tingle Creek and Clarence House wins are high class efforts but there remains the big question mark of how the track suits. Every time I watch his 2nd to Kid Cassidy, (who received 10lb,) in November, Sire De Grugy doesn’t look as if he’s enjoying himself.
The clincher is his price. I guesstimate Sprinter Sacre has about a 40% chance of turning up and running his race - in which case he wins. That effectively means Sire De Grugy is 11/10 without Sprinter Sacre and that looks short for a horse who has to prove himself at the track.
If neither of the big two in the market can perform then it might simply be a bad renewal. Even allowing for that there look to be plenty of horses that surely can't be good enough or are unlikely to run.
Benefficient (11/1) won the 2m1f Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas but looks better suited by intermediate trips. He might be re-routed here if Sprinter Sacre misses the race but his target is the Ryanair, which looks the ideal race for him. 10/1 NRNB is good value given that if he runs it is likely to be in Sprinter Sacre's absence so he'll be much shorter. However it's about 3/1 him running here so he won't be everyone's idea of a betting proposition.
Captain Conan (12/1) has had problems and must be doubtful to get to the Festival. I doubt he’s good enough even if he does. Al Ferof (20/1) will almost certainly run over further and Dodging Bullets (25/1) and Hinterland (25/1) are being aimed at the Arkle.
I've backed Baily Green (25/1) for the Ryanair and he's odds-on to run there. Like Benefficient, there's a case for backing him at 20/1 NRNB as he's even more likely to only run if Sprinter Sacre doesn't. Sizing Europe (25/1) is one of my favourite horses in training but surely can’t win even a bad renewal aged 12. He’s more likely to run in the Ryanair.
Module (33/1) and Somersby (25/1) fought out the finish of the Haldon with Somersby prevailing by a head off 155, giving 3lb. Somersby has a form chance as he was 4l 2nd to Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek and if the winner doesn’t act at the track then he ought to be well placed. However, I just can’t see a 10 year old, who’s probably better over further and who has been beaten at all 6 chases at the track, actually winning. Module is more interesting as he’s had only 6 starts over fences. It’s debatable whether 2m is his trip, but if it is then you can discount his Peterborough run, in which case he’s progressive. He’s entered in the Game Spirit on Saturday and we’ll know more if he runs there.
It’s not often I read a Pricewise ante-post column and don’t fancy the horse put up at all, but I can’t see Alderwood (20/1) winning. Yes, he looked good winning the Grand Annual off 140 but Kid Cassidy was given a bad ride – he led at the top of the hill and is a horse that has always been best with exaggerated waiting tactics. Alderwood’s a 149 rated 10 year old who fractured his pastern in his last run in October. It’s hard to see him finding the improvement to win even a bad renewal.
Kid Cassidy (16/1) has the talent to win an ordinary renewal, but isn’t the easiest to predict. He has only a few pounds to find with Sire De Grugy on their course and distance form in November, and a race run at championship pace should suit. The problem is that he really does seem to need the exaggerated waiting tactics and it’s hard to remember any horse winning this with them – the good horses ridden up with the pace just don’t stop.
Special Tiara (40/1) was 3rd to Kid Cassidy and Sire De Grugy in November and the key to him is good ground. In part that’s because he’s an unusual horse in being a classy (153 rated) chaser who doesn’t really get 2m. He’s only 7 and as he matures he should see the trip out better. If they are bouncing off the surface then he might be one to consider on the day.
Another horse for whom stamina is not a strong point is Twinlight (25/1). Since falling on his chasing debut he’s 6/7 around about 2m, both attempts at around 2½m resulting in heavy defeats. He’s won a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 this season but the form hasn’t worked out and it’s hard to know how good he is. The fact that the Mullins team tried stepping him up in trip again last time suggests they don’t think he’s good enough for this.
Hidden Cyclone (16/1) has finally got a clear run this season and hasn’t been out of the first 3 in 5 runs. He is looking exposed as below top class now though and it was disappointing he was beaten so far behind Sire De Grugy last time.
Looking through this list again, it just reinforces in my mind how many of these horses look to be clearly not good enough. The two at the front of the market are the only two of those mentioned so far who look Champion Chase class – and both have question marks over them.
That suggests that the one other horse that looks a top class performer, Arvika Ligeonniere, must be good value at 16/1. I can hear the howls of derision from those who demand course form or who brand him a mudlark, but the more I think about it, the less concerned I am.
Of course his chances would be improved if it was run on soft ground at Punchestown. However, he’s jumped really straight in his last couple of runs, and Ruby Walsh was adamant that going left handed is no longer a problem. He clearly acts well on testing ground but he’s won 4 of his 5 races on good / yielding ground, the only defeat coming when not staying in the Albert Bartlett. Those wins include a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 so it’s not as if they were in egg and spoons, for all they weren’t the strongest races for the grade.
He’s the one, outside the front two in the market, who’s looked like he might be a star, especially in the Grade 1 Drinmore and Ryanair novice chases last season, and then when trouncing three 150+ horses in the Tied Cottage on Sunday. I had been concerned about tactics after he was ridden much more conservatively the previous time at Leopardstown, but it looks as if that was a bid to get him to settle better going forward.
If ridden prominently he has the toe to go the gallop, and stays the trip really well. Yes, concerns about the track and the possibility of the ground being too quick are real. But class will out. I’m pretty sure he’s got a fair bit more of it than any of those outside the front two in the market. Nobody is better at dictating fractions than Ruby Walsh and now he’s confirmed as an intended runner I think he should be a single figure price. If Sprinter Sacre turns up fit and well then its all academic, but if he doesn’t Arvika Ligeonniere is a class act. I’d rather have that class on my side than a Grade 2 horse that’s a course specialist and loves good ground, (which he might not get).
1pt Arvika Ligeonniere to win the Champion Chase @ 16/1