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Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Preview, Stats & Tips

Can Sizing win the Champion Chase again?

Can Sizing win the Champion Chase again?

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Preview, Trends and Tips

It's now just sixteen days until the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012, and Wednesday's highlight promises to be a cracker. The eagerly awaited rematch between Big Zeb and Sizing Europe, with Finian's Rainbow and a host of aspirants snapping at their hooves, looks a race to savour.

But who has what it takes, on past trends and/or current form, to be crowned the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 winner?

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Trends

Let's first take a look at the recent trends for the Champion Chase, some of which are pretty strong.

Champion Chase Age Trends - although ostensibly a two mile speed test, this race actually rides more like a two and a half miler, due to the ubiquitous end to end gallop and the merciless uphill grind to the finish.

So it is that older horses have tended to hold sway in recent years. In fact, whilst the most precocious of them all - Master Minded - won his first Champion Chase as a five year old (and his second at six), the last few years have seen just one other horse younger than seven prevail.

Indeed, Voy Por Ustedes was the only other sub-seven year old to win since Inkslinger way back in 1973! That doesn't bode well for Kauto Stone, who bids to add to the recent record of ex-French young'uns.

Azertyuiop was seven when winning, in 2004. Before that, the last 7yo's to oblige were Klairon Davis (1996) and Viking Flagship (1994).

The only entered horse of that age is Peddlers Cross who is far more likely to run in the Arkle.

Horses aged eight or nine have won seven of the last fourteen, and 16 of the last 16. This is the core age range to focus on.

On the other side of that, Martha's Son and One Man (1997/8), and Moscow Flyer (2005) were the only horses aged ten or older to have won since Badsworth Boy completed a hat-trick of Champion Chases in 1985 at the age of ten.

Big Zeb is eleven. Sizing Europe is ten.

Champion Chase last time out trends - ten of the last fourteen winners won their previous start. Of the other four, two fell or unseated, and two finished third.

Ten of the last twelve winners had won their last completed start. Sizing Europe last year was a notable exception to this rule.

Arkle runners in the Champion Chase trends - the previous year's Arkle has proved an extremely strong pointer for the Champion Chase, with Sizing Europe (2010 Arkle winner, 2011 Champion Chase winner) being the most recent to follow up a win or place in the Arkle with a win or place in the Champion Chase itself.

Previously, Forpadydeplasterer and Kalahari King (2010); Fair Along (2008); and Voy Por Ustedes (2007) all making the frame in the Champion Chase after doing likewise in the previous year's Arkle.

The 1-2-3 from the 2011 Arkle were Captain Chris, Finian's Rainbow, and Realt Dubh.

Captain Chris is not entered this year, and Realt Dubh hasn't been seen since finishing second in a Grade 1 on the 5th May last year.

Finian's Rainbow then is the most likely candidate from last year's Arkle alumni to make the frame here.

Champion Chase course and distance trends - All of the last thirteen winners had won a race over at least 2m1 1/2f (my thanks to Gavin Priestley's Festival Trends for this nugget).

I'msingingtheblues has never won beyond two miles one furlong, but would have had a limited chance in any case.

Ten of the last thirteen Champion Chase winners had previously won at Cheltenham, eight of them at the Festival itself.

Of this year's entries, only Big Zeb, Gauvain, I'msingingtheblues, Peddlers Cross, Sizing Europe and Wishfull Thinking can boast a previous win at the track.

Peddlers is going for the Arkle, and Wishfull has a breathing problem (according to his trainer). Gauvain is much more likely to run in the Ryanair Chase, and I'msinging isn't going to be good enough.

That just leaves previous Champion Chase winners Big Zeb and Sizing Europe.

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Form

The clear pick on form is Sizing Europe. He was the Champion Hurdle favourite in 2008, Arkle winner in 2010, and Champion Chase winner in 2011. He loves it here.

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Moreover, Sizing Europe is seemingly in the best form of his life, with back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek and Grade 2 Tied Cottage (a TC double).

He has taken on, and beaten, many of his main rivals for Champion Chase 2012 glory, and is rated 177, ten pounds superior to anything else in the race.

Big Zeb has the next best official rating, coming in at 167 according to the Irish handicapper, which makes him better than any of the British challengers.

Somersby heads the home charge off a mark of 166, followed in by Gauvain, Kauto Stone and Wishfull Thinking (all on 162). Somersby's win in the Victor Chandler Chase last time out was a first Grade 1, and an affirmation of the faith many had retained in the beast.

Clearly talented, Somersby doesn't always put it all in. Saying that, a stiff two miles is probably ideal, and he has plenty of Festival placed form (3rd in Supreme, 2nd in Arkle, 5th in Champion Chase last year).

Very few of these are in winning form recently, with the exception of Zeb, Sizing and Somersby. But one who might surprise is Blazing Tempo.

This mare is incredibly versatile, having won a Grade 3 on heavy ground and the Galway Plate on good ground.  And she won another Grade 3 over two miles, whilst the Galway Plate was 2m6f! She's won in three small fields, and took the Galway Plate from 21 rivals.

For one so flexible, it's no surprise that she holds a number of entries, but this looks a much shallower race than the Ryanair, and I believe she has place chances at a very decent price... if she runs.

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Tips

OK, so that's the trends and a whistle stop tour of the form. But who do I think will win?

The clear pick on form and most of the trends is Sizing Europe. He is in great form, has NEVER been out of the frame in fifteen chase starts, and is a deserving favourite for this race.

The problem is that I cannot back the horse at a best priced 11/10.

Looking for value elsewhere leads us to the trio of Big Zeb, Somersby and Finian's Rainbow, who are the next in the betting. Despite twice beating Noble Prince, Big Zeb has regressive Racing Post Ratings. That's hardly surprising for an eleven year old, and I couldn't have him after he was trounced by Sizing the last day.

Somersby beat Finian's Rainbow last time out in the Victor Chandler, but the latter has more scope to improve - albeit that he'll have to in order to get by his last time out conqueror.

But Finian's Rainbow has been beaten both times he's been to Cheltenham, and it's hard to see him preventing that becoming three times in a fortnight's time.

Somersby - on his day - would be hard to keep out of the frame in my view. And, at 12/1, he might be worthy of each way support. But... he's also entered in the Ryanair Chase, for which he's a shorter price.

Blazing Tempo is interesting at bigger prices, despite the same multiple entries conundrum. She's won her last three, and has been in the frame in eight of ten chasing starts. She also receives a 7lb mares' allowance, and 33/1 offers us something to hang on to despite the possibility that she may get outclassed here.

At the time of writing, only Ladbrokes and bet365 are non-runner no bet, which means if your horse doesn't run in the race you get your stakes back.

Due to the nature of the double entries on my fancied pair, and the fact that best prices are not available with the 'non-runner no bet' bookies, it's hard to recommend a wager right now.

STOP PRESS: Those clever souls at Corbett Sports have replied to my tweet all bookies, and gone non-runner no bet all races. Well done to them.

A bookie that listens?

Corbett Sports: A bookie that listens?

Champion Chase tips

Most likely Champion Chase 2012 winner - Sizing Europe - 11/10 general

Best Champion Chase 2012 each way play - Somersby (with a run) - 12/1 NRNB Corbett Sports

Best Champion Chase 2012 outsider - Blazing Tempo (with a run) - 28/1 NRNB Corbett Sports, 33/1 all in, run or not

 

Carnivals and Festivals: Weekend Review

Quarter Horses are fast!

Quarter Horses are fast!

Horse racing is a sport enjoyed across the length and breadth of the globe, dear reader, and it manifests itself in a multitude of different guises. From the bottomless slog of a four mile chase at Towcester, via two furlong 'quarter horse' dirt races at greyhound tracks masquerading as horse racing tracks in the US, to the slick monied - slightly surreal - racing of Meydan's tapeta track in Dubai, there really is something for everyone in racing.

Last weekend saw countless clues for both the Carnival and the Festival: Dubai's culminating World Cup meeting on March 26th, and Cheltenham four day National Hunt season highlight running from March 15th to 18th.

First, roving reporter Ross relates the latest Godolphin / de Kock domination in the Emirates, then I'll expound on my views of the virtues (or otherwise) of this weekend's Festival trials from Britain and Ireland. Over to Ross, and a somewhat unpatriotic rallying cry (unless you happen to be Gallic)...

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Vive la France! Forgive me, as patriotic as this website is (it is geegeez.co.UK after all), I have never been so pleased to see the French show up just at the right time (makes a change).

After last week’s dominance of the Dubai Carnival’s second meeting by Godolphin and Mike de Kock - 5 winners, 3 seconds and 7 thirds between them - it looked like things were going to go the same way this Thursday after the boys in blue claimed the first race with City Style and then had a 1-2-3 in races three and four.

Although a great achievement for Sheikh Mohammed and his team, this kind of dominance does become tedious to watch. It’s not as though we can profit from their success either as their apparent third string runner is often as likely to win as the horse Frankie Dettori chooses.

We did get a slight respite from the navy blue marauders as the French-trained Win For Sure lived up to his name and sailed home to land the concluding handicap under Gregory Benoist. The trainer's name is fairly unpronounceable, but is spelt like this: Nakkachdji. Very nice too.

Bronze Cannon wins in Meydan

Bronze Cannon wins in Meydan

Earlier in the evening, Bronze Cannon scored a cosy victory in what looked a competitive conditions race. I can boast a small connection to this bay colt. As you may know, Brighton handler Gary Moore does occasionally train some runners for Bronze Cannon’s owner, Ramzan Kadyrov, to get them ready before they are transferred to Herman Brown’s Dubai yard and so it happened that Bronze Cannon followed this same path in 2010 whilst I was working for Gary.

The horse had won at Royal Ascot for John Gosden before being bought for a reported £1.3m by his current owner. I was lucky enough to ride him most days on the Downs in Brighton and I struggled to believe that this was the Bronze Cannon that I'd been sitting on. After all, he was absolutely tiny, no bigger than a pony.

To add to this, he moved like a cripple and cantered as though he needed three miles and a good load of fences in front of him! Admittedly he wasn't doing any serious work when I was with him but it just goes to show you that some horses come alive at the races and you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the gallops at home.

Regular readers will remember that I gave a good word for Luca Cumani’s Drunken Sailor last time and I almost got it right for once as he ran a blinder to finish 4th behind Whispering Gallery in the 1m6f handicap. He has obviously acclimatised well and is worth backing next time. I also mentioned the yard’s puzzlement surrounding Man of Iron’s poor runs and it seems it all came to a head this Thursday as he was pulled-up entering the straight but reports suggest that there was no serious injury to him. He’s one to steer well clear of though.

Cumani did receive some consolation when the enigmatic Presvis romped home in the Group 2 Al Rashidiya Stakes. I’m sure we all know this horse from losing plenty of money on him in the past but on his day, like this time, he is a talented animal. It remains to be seen whether he can put two good efforts together next time.

On another note, what attracts many owners, trainers and jockeys to Meydan is the apparently generous prize money. It’s all well and good promising people decent purses but reports have reached me that payments are very slow in coming and last season (which ended in March) some jockeys didn’t receive their riding fees and percentages until August. Let’s hope this wasn’t the same for the owners - if you upset them, they likely won’t be coming back in a hurry!

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To the weekend past, and altogethrer soggier, muddier and more robust racing types. And that's just the racegoers. Friday's Doncaster card had little in the ways of future clues except, perhaps, that the track was unlikely to survive for Saturday's feature meeting.

In winning the juvenile novice hurdle, Empire Levant put the final nail in the coffin of the Franklino ante-post punt, seeing that one off by a wide margin. The bookies were singularly unimpressed with the 2.5 lengths winning verdict over Palawi, from John Quinn's yard, and still have him as a 33/1 shot.

For me, Sam Winner looks the best value in that race. Despite being beaten in a real slog at Chepstow last time, the overall balance of his form is as good as anything in here at the moment, and the remaining 12's in a few places might be worth small money.

Over at Gowran Park on Friday were some strong clues. Whilst Grands Crus may have bagged Saturday's headlines to take clear second place in the World Hurdle market (more on that in a moment), Mourad made a less well-publicised claim for the same race with an equally impressive victory over a field that included dual World Hurdle third, Powerstation.

Mourad is only a six year old, and he seems to be improving with age and racing. Third in last season's Punchestown World Hurdle, the 10/1 about this one is pretty fair. And the 5/1 without Big Buck's offered by Stan James and bet365 (1/4 1-2-3) looks an each way steal.

To Saturday's racing and most interest by far was at Cheltenham's Trials Day meeting. First up were the juvenile novices and my Third Intention aspirations were left pretty much as they were before the race.

Third Intention had been a 25/1 shot prior to proceedings and, in running two length second to Local Hero - the favourite here, he remains a 25/1 shot for the Triumph. The winner has truncated slightly, to 16's and 20's generally, but it's clear that the bookies a) are happy to take bets on any horse you want to back in this race, because b) they - and we - haven't a clue!

Moving on from the insoluble conundrum that is the current Triumph Hurdle picture, and The Giant Bolster put himself firmly in the picture for the RSA Chase - or maybe the Jewson - with an extremely game, if slightly error strewn, performance here. And herein lies the problem with ante-post betting in many of the races now.

With the Cheltenham Festival having moved to four days from three, there are now six more races. These races tend to be at intermediate distances (like the Ryanair Chase over 2m5f and the Jewson Novices' Chase over 2m4f), which means whether you fancy one in the speed races (i.e. Queen Mother Champion Chase or Arkle) or in the stayers' races (Gold Cup or RSA Chase), there's always a danger that your horse will be redirected to the intermediate (and often softer) race, thus doing the ante-post dough.

This is a problem that never used to exist, and as a number of my horses are near the top of the markets for these mid-distance races, I'm not happy. Of course, once I've recovered from my hissy fit, I'll acknowledge that it's my own fault and will make it a rule only to back horses ante-post where the race they're likely to run in is all but certain... (Trouble is, I'm far too indisciplined, and like the look of a big priced horse far too much, to ever do this!!!)

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Moving on, Wishfull Thinking was a smooth and ultimately clear winner of the 2m5f novice chase, and his trainer, Philip Hobbs, seems to have improved the horse's jumping markedly. That being the case, he looks a strong contender for the Jewson Novices Chase. Or maybe the Centenary Novices Chase. Or perhaps the RSA Chase. Or... the Arkle? He's quoted in all four. How the hell are we supposed to take a view on these bloody nags?!

Assuming the ground is good to soft or better, I'd imagine he'll go for the Jewson, for which he's the 10/1 favourite. Those odds reflect more the uncertainty around which horses - including Wishfull Thinking - will run in the race. Indeed, it may very well be wishful thinking taking a price on this one for any of the novice events. Wait until plans are firmer - or you can get non-runner no bet - and take a shorter price on an insured wager.

My worst bet of the day - and for a very long time - came in the next race on Punchestowns. I figured that Nicky Henderson would have left a fair bit to work with, and he might get beaten here. But I decided he couldn't be out of the first two, bar a fall, and backed him for a place accordingly. I am an idiot, sometimes.

Tidal Bay looks a Tidy outsider for Gold Cup glory

Tidal Bay looks a Tidy outsider for Gold Cup glory

Neptune Collonges was allowed an easy lead in front, and relished it, jumping impeccably from fence to fence. He was never in any danger until Tidal Bay made his usual late challenge. Alas, it was too late and the 'Bay took silver medal honours. Punchestowns was beaten 30 lengths by the pair of them so I have no complaints.

40/1 about Tidal Bay is a decent each way bet for the Gold Cup, if you're ok with a) the fact that he might sulk and not perform and b) he might run in something else and c) he might not be good enough!

In fairness, those three imponderables can be leveled at pretty much all horseflesh two months before the races, so he'd be a more credible outsider than many.

As for Punchestowns, well I'm certain he's far better than that and, given the trainer's statements after that he'll not just have needed it but he wants to get another race into him between now and the Festival, all may not yet be lost. He's also 40's, but a stylish win in a race like the Aon Chase would see those odds halved. My suspicion is that Punchestowns may end up racing in some obscure Kelso affair (remember Zaynar's defeat there at odds of 1/14 (!!!!) last mid-February prior to a third place finish in the Champion Hurdle?).

Arguably the most competitive race of the day was the staying novice hurdle, so it was strange that Backspin was wagered to the virtual exclusion of all others. He ran probably his best race to date, but that was only good enough for fourth. The winner was another Henderson inmate, Bobs Worth, and - mindful of how many of Henderson's ran with something still to work on between now and Cup Final day - the manner of this one's victory was taking.

He is likely to take in the Neptune Novices over 2m5f at the Festival, so it's no surprise to see him installed the 5/1 favourite there. Not much value meat on those odds bones, but probably fair enough in the context of what's he's achieved and the relative certainty about which race he'll contest.

Rock On Ruby ran on resolutely to be the only danger at the last, and is 10's for the Neptune, but 14's for the Supreme. I didn't think he was stopping here, so would be surprised if he dropped back in trip to the mininum for the Supreme. But then, I'm often surprised at the actions of horses, jockeys and trainers! 😉

The 3.35 - Cleeve Hurdle - was easily the most eye-catching race, as Grands Crus continued his rapid ascent of the staying hurdler's ranks with a facile cantering win by ten lengths. Enough of the right horses finished in the right order behind him to believe this was a serious performance, and the race has been THE World Hurdle trial in recent seasons with Big Buck's and Inglis Drever using it as their springboard historically.

It has long been a contention of Nick Mordin, one of the best judges of race times / performances I know, that Big Buck's dominates a weak division. If that's the case, then the emergence of both Grands Crus and to a lesser extent Mourad, as well as potential improvers like Oscar Whisky, present serious threats to Big Buck's.

So much so, in fact, that there is a slight temptation to lay the favourite at odds on... actually, I'm not that brave, and I think there are better ways to play the race. I can certainly see Big Buck's being sent off around evens on the day though, which does offer a trading opportunity if you agree with that view.

Although I can't say why (you'll know if you are a Festival Trends member), Gavin from Nag Nag Nag will have been delighted with the result of the concluding handicap hurdle, as it sets his ante-post plunge up very nicely for the big target race at the Festival. Nice one, Gavin!

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Yesterday's Punchestown card lost some of its lustre when the opening PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase was abandoned. Historically the number one prep race for the Cross Country race at the Festival, this leaves a few key contenders - notably Sizing Australia and Garde Champetre - seeking a tune up event in the next few weeks. Expect to see them line up in modest staying hurdle affairs!

In the Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase over two miles, there was a real turn up as Big Zeb was turned over by Golden Silver for the first time in five attempts. Again, the nature of the race is that I'd expect Big Zeb to easily confirm previous form if both went to Cheltenham and, in fact, the 7/2 about Zeb may be one of the best prices on any horse in any race at the Festival.

My abominable record in the race precludes me from piling in, but I will be taking a keen interest in the Zeb-edee in the Spring (geddit?!)

Hugely disappointing for me was Sizing Europe's moderate third here. It's unlikely he will run in the Champion Chase at the Festival, but the fact that he raced here implies connections are loathe to go as far as the Gold Cup either. So, the Ryanair may well be where this one lands, leaving my ante-post Gold Cup punt grounded.

Finally, in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle, the horse I was most interested to see - Byerley Bear - ran below par in fifth behind a Willie Mullins 1-2 of Gagewell Flyer and Earlson Grey. The front two pulled ten lengths clear of the rest, and added further ballast to the formidable Mullins team ahead of the Festival.

In fact, Willie had five of the six winners on the day! He may have his best ever Cheltenham Festival with established winning horses like Quevega supported by a cast of many in the novice events. Especially ask yourself Where's Willie in the handicap hurdles. Thousand Stars last year was a prime example, popping up at 20/1.

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So, the picture clears ever so slightly. Or did it getting a tad cloudier? Who can say for sure before the middle of March? Whichever way your views lie on the evidence of the last few days, the Carnivals and Festivals are barely beginning! 😀

Matt / Ross

Master Minded still the one to beat in Champion Chase

Master Minded can still win the Champion Chase

Master Minded can still win the Champion Chase

Master Minded fans may have had a shock on Saturday, when the Victor Chandler winner's lead was diminished to a disintegrating short head by the line, but the Paul Nicholls-trained eight year old is still the one to beat in the Champion Chase come March. Or so I reckon.

Let's consider the facts. Firstly,  Master Minded won the race. Okay, he looked like he'd win by as far as he liked after Petit Robin fell and severely hampered Kalahari King (more on those two in a moment). Granted, he was all out to prevail by the narrowest of margins as they smiled for the photo finish. And of course, Somersby would have won in another stride.

But the Ascot race is a furlong further than the Cheltenham race. And the ground on Saturday was on the soft side of good, which it is unlikely to be come March. Master Minded is probably losing a yard of that brilliant speed he possessed earlier in his career (indeed one idiot on here - me, I think it was - suggested he might be a throwaway bet for the Gold Cup. Suffice it to say, I've thrown away that throwaway voucher!). For all that, he retains plenty and, bar the second horse, the remainder were seen off by twenty lengths and more.

The runner-up Somersby is both consistent and frustrating. Consistently frustrating, one might say, if one keeps backing him. Clearly, he has huge talent, as podium positions in five consecutive Grade 1 and 2 contests testify. As a reliable punting proposition, he's a swerve for me though. I mean, even his trainer doesn't know what trip he wants and reckons he's a monkey... sorry, I mean a difficult horse to ride and train.

She, Henrietta Knight - trainer of Best Mate and Edredon Bleu, no less - said, "I was really pleased with him as he is not the easiest horse. We were so sure that we wanted the Ryanair but after today's performance he showed that he is still able to hold his own at two miles so we might go for the Ryanair next year now."

In other words, we don't know what trip he wants and he's a bloody nightmare to train. That is of course excessively harsh, but where my equine investments are concerned, I'm generally looking for a combination of greater certainty about ideal conditions and a bigger price than the 10/1 which is the best of the bookies' odds.

Mad Max was third, and well beaten, seemingly without excuses. 40/1 for the Champion Chase is about right, I'd say, though again it wouldn't tempt me. I can't see how he could possibly reverse this form, and a place is as good as it can get for this chap.

Kalahari King could be the surprise in the Champion Chase.. if he runs

Kalahari King could be the surprise in the Champion Chase.. if he runs

Fourth home was the desperately unlucky Kalahari King. Now, let me place on record my distaste for 'unlucky' horses. Unlucky horses tend to lead to unlucky punters and, if you want to do your dough, keep following a small herd of unluckies... But don't come crying to me.

Kalahari King was not only unlucky, but he has been excessively well-touted as unlucky too. This means that everyone says 'he was unlucky'. Watch the race, and you'll see that - just as he was beginning to make his run from off what looked a strong gallop - Petit Robin decided to ground Geraghty and then swerve violently left.

In so doing, he very nearly carried Kalahari King off the course (easy for me to say!), and fair stopped him in his tracks. His resolution in re-rallying all the way to the line has led many, including connections it would seem, into believing the Ryanair is the optimum route around Cheltenham's Grade 1 action in March.

I don't agree, but then I don't own, train or otherwise contribute to the wellbeing and financing of the horse. I wish I did! For me, he's an ideal type for the Champion Chase, having finished third in the race last year off a single prep run; and second in the Arkle in 2009.

Further, the only time Kalahari King has won beyond 2m1f is when he scraped home in a Musselburgh novice chase two years ago. Hardly Ryanair-winning form, I'd conjecture. But, what do I know? Well, I know this. I would back him if I thought he was running in the two miler, and I won't be backing him in the 21-furlonger.

Petit Robin had a lot made of his fall, because he was going well at the time. They were a bloody long way out, and he's never beaten Master Minded, so I've no idea why people would believe that Saturday was his day. He wouldn't have beaten Kalahari King, or Somersby, or Master Minded, in my opinion.

Of those who were absent on Saturday, Big Zeb has some strong rivals to contend with but won't have been unduly bothered by Ascot's leading actors. Woolcombe Folly is unlikely to be good enough, though he has an excellent win strike rate; and Sizing Europe is not yet a confirmed starter (my Gold Cup wager means I'm hoping he runs in the longer race - he's also in the Ryanair, further muddying the waters).

So, in summary, if you liked Master Minded for the Champion Chase before Saturday, there's no reason to change your mind now. The fact that he's skidded out to 11/4 with Ascot's big race sponsors, Victor Chandler, just means you'll get more jam on your bread if you're right.

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Hopping across the pond, as one can so very easily metaphorically do, Sunday's Leopardstown card had some excellent action and some mixed news for the Bisogno / Geegeez ante-post portfolio.

Hurricane: The Fly in the Champion Hurdle ointment?

Hurricane: The Fly in the Champion Hurdle ointment?

The big race of the day was the Irish Champion Hurdle where, in one of the most predictable finishes for years, Solwhit finished second to Hurricane Fly for the fourth time in their last five starts! Solwhit was beaten eighteen lengths by Binocular in last year's Champion Hurdle, and has never been beaten more than three and a half by Hurricane Fly.

Despite the apparently facile nature of the Fly's recent small margin victories, it is notable that he has either won easily or not won. In other words, he might be truly exceptional. But he doesn't look to relish a fight, and it is almost impossible to entertain the Hurricane blowing all-comers away to such a degree that he doesn't need to battle up the hill. Moreover, he has yet to travel to Britain to race, and that is a significant negative in the context of the Champion Hurdle, about which I've pontificated at length elsewhere.

In summary, Hurricane Fly may not have as much in reserve over Solwhit - let alone Binocular and co - as might appear at first glance. His lack of UK racing experience and fragile limbs mean if you really want to back him, you should probably wait until the day of the race. And if you're me, you will be looking for one (or two or three) against him.

Hurricane Fly might be brilliant, and win the Champion Hurdle in a canter. I'll be betting against that eventuality.

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Elsewhere on the Graded stakes card, there was a win for Realt Dubh, who just got the better of Noble Prince in a head-bobber for the Grade 1 Arkle Novices' Chase. Having backed Noble Prince (£100 at 25's with Bet365) for the Cheltenham Arkle, I was quite pleased with this performance.

Whilst Realt Dubh is a very good horse and, probably so is the faller Flat Out, Noble Prince is in there pitching and should give a good account of himself at Cheltenham. He should also go off somewhat shorter than the 25's I've secured and hopefully than the best priced 20's he is currently (only 10/1 with Paddy Power, who believe the Irish have a strong hand in the 2011 Arkle).

More adverse weather as the Cyclone blows 'em away

More adverse weather as the Cyclone blows 'em away

The Grade 2 novices' hurdle over 2m4f had still more promising news for the portfolio, as Hidden Cyclone (backed at 46 for £12 for the Neptune, and 95 for the same stake for the Supreme) reverted to winning ways, with a bit in hand. Despite bungling the last he was comfortably too good for Ballyhaunis and the rest.

He's a best priced 20's for the Neptune Novices at the Festival, but trainer Shark Hanlon sounded the alarms when he warned, "I'll have to talk to the owner Pierse Mee about Cheltenham, if he goes he'll probably go for the Neptune Investments but I wouldn't be keen on going. If he got cut in the ground at Cheltenham I wouldn`t mind going but he wants cut in the ground."

Thanks Shark! Not...

Lastly, in the opener on the card, it was another notch for last season's Cheltenham Champion Bumper, as Day Of A Lifetime sauntered home in the opening maiden hurdle. He'll be tilted at bigger pots now and has the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a Festival target.

I'll be back tomorrow with an ante-post look at another of the major Cheltenham Festival races, so stay tuned for that.

Matt

2010 Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview: Each Way Banker?

It seems, dear reader, that everyone has a 'Cheltenham Banker' come mid-March, and most of them get rolled over... so it might be strange for me to flag up a banker fully two and a half months prior to the big meeting... but you already know I'm a bit strange! 😉

So, without further shilly-shallying, let's get on with it.

The last nine winners, and their best run prior to January, look like this:

Year Winner Best Run Prior To January
2009 Master Minded 1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)
2008 Master Minded 2nd G1 in France
2007 Voy Por Ustedes 2nd G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)
2006 Newmill 3rd G1 Hurdle
2005 Moscow Flyer 1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)
2004 Azertyuiop 2nd G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)
2003 Moscow Flyer 1st G2 Chase
2002 Flagship Uberalles 1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)
2000 Edredon Bleu 3rd G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)

[Remember, foot and mouth disease claimed the 2001 Festival]

We can see then that the Tingle Creek is THE key prep race, with 6 of the 9 Queen Mother Champion Chase winners finishing on the podium in the Sandown heat. Note, though, that three of those podium finishers failed to win at Sandown before triumphing at Cheltenham in the biggie.

Let's now look at the Queen Mother Champion Chase winners' best run the previous season:

Year Winner Best Run Season Prior
2009 Master Minded WON Queen Mum Chase
2008 Master Minded Won Auteuil 4yo Chase
2007 Voy Por Ustedes WON Arkle
2006 Newmill Won G2 Novice Chase
2005 Moscow Flyer Won 3 G1 Chases
2004 Azertyuiop WON Arkle
2003 Moscow Flyer WON Arkle
2002 Flagship Uberalles 1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)
2000 Edredon Bleu 2nd Queen Mum Chase

Unsurprisingly, all won (including Eddie Bleu, whose best run was actually a 2nd place finish in the previous QM Chase). Four of the nine had won at the previous year's Festival, and seven of the nine had prior course and distance form (note, I am including both old and new courses here, so it's not technically all CD form).

Year Winner Bred Odds CD? Age
2009 Master Minded French 4-11 Yes 6
2008 Master Minded French 3-1 No 5
2007 Voy Por Ustedes French 5-1 Yes 6
2006 Newmill Irish 16-1 No 8
2005 Moscow Flyer Irish 6-4 Yes 11
2004 Azertyuiop French 15-8 Yes 7
2003 Moscow Flyer Irish 7-4 Yes 9
2002 Flagship Uberalles Irish 7-4 Yes 8
2000 Edredon Bleu French 7-2 Yes 8

Interestingly, perhaps, we note that all of the victorious nonet were French or Irish bred.We can also see that eight of the nine won at odds of 5-1 or shorter, and 7 of 9 were 6-9 years old.

Actually, age is interesting as follows:

Only French breds have won aged 7 or younger since 1997; and only French breds have won aged 6 or younger, EVER!

It should also be noted that, although dear old Well Chief will be 11 next March, Moscow Flyer scored for this veteran bracket back in 2005, so it can be done.

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So that's the stat attack - but what does it all mean?

Well, applying the numbers to the nags produces the following:

Odds Horse CD Form
7-4 Master Minded Won QM x 2
10-1 Twist Magic Fell twice, 6th of 8
10-1 Kalahari King 2nd Arkle
10-1 Big Zeb Fell only try
10-1 Forpadydeplasterer Won Arkle
16-1 Barker No runs
16-1 Well Chief 1st Arkle, 2nd & Fell QM
33-1 Petit Robin 3rd QM last season
33-1 Planet Of Sound 3rd Arkle
Odds Horse Tng Crk 123 Age '10 Fr/Ire?
7-4 Master Minded No 7 French Yes
10-1 Twist Magic Yes 8 Yes
10-1 Kalahari King No 9 Yes
10-1 Big Zeb No (4th) 9 Yes
10-1 Forpadydeplasterer Yes 8 Yes
16-1 Barker No 9 Yes
16-1 Well Chief Yes 11 No
33-1 Petit Robin No 7 French Yes
33-1 Planet Of Sound No 8 No

Master Minded is justifiably favourite, as a two time winner of the race, and current Champion Chaser. But he was less imperious last season than in 2008 (not saying much maybe, as his 2008 triumph was one of the most visually stunning performances I've ever seen!), and he was beaten in a new race at Cheltenham in November.

That race, the Connaught Chase, featured four of the first six home in the 2009 Champion Chase, and it was Well Chief who prevailed. We can expect a much more match-fit Master Minded in March, but this run was disappointing nevertheless. The fact that he was also beaten by Mahogany Blaze, who is a good enough stick, but limited at the top level, says a lot too.

It should be noted that he's only been beaten in UK on his first or last runs of the season, which bodes better for MM fans. He might well win again. But 7-4 is not for me thanks.

Moving down the card, and they then bet 10-1 (top price) each of four: Twist Magic, Kalahari King, Big Zeb, and Forpadydeplasterer.

Twist Magic is a marvelous horse at Sandown, as he again proved when winning the Tingle Creek. However, his Cheltenham performances have been, umm, less sparkling. Two tumbles and a tailed off does not a Champion Chase winner make. A place lay for me come the day...

Kalahari King was just touched off in last season's Arkle, and is relatively unexposed. The problem is that he hasn't run this season and may not run before February. That can't count in his favour, and nor from an ante-post perspective can the fact that the Ryanair Chase has not been discounted yet.

Too many question marks to make him a betting proposition.

Big Zeb is a swerve as well. This horse makes mistakes, especially in top class races where he's not able to dominate. His only Grade 1 chase wins were in Ireland in a novice and a very soft looking Leopardstown affair. I liked his chance last year, and he let me (and, more notably, himself) down with more dodgy jumping. The way he bungled his way round Sandown behind Twist Magic was further fuel to an already over-heated fire. Readily passed over.

Which leads us onto Forpadydeplasterer. The only horse to have ticks in all boxes, he's got CD form having won last season's Arkle (as did Voy Por Ustedes, Azertyuiop and Moscow Flyer first time) ; he was second in the Tingle Creek (as were Voy Por Ustedes and Azertyuiop prior to winning at Cheltenham); he'll be an eight year old next season (which is the optimum age - three 8yo's have won in the last nine years, more than any other; and ten since 1985, way more than any other); and, he's Irish bred.

Forpady runs best on decent ground, which he's quite likely to get for the Festival (trainer Tom Cooper was quoted as saying that he hated the going at Sandown behind Twist, and it was only guts and determination that kept him in the runner-up berth).

As if all that wasn't enough, he's certain to run in the Queen Mum (barring accident or injury), and his chase record is two wins and six seconds from eight starts.

That number of silver medals has to be a concern, but it's worth noting that his two chase wins were the Arkle where he got his preferred ground, and a very soft novice event on debut over fences.

He's 10/1 pretty much everywhere, and all firms go 1/4 the first three, so a tenner each way would return £35 for a place. I can't see him being out of the frame (though I could see him chasing one home), and I've backed him accordingly.

Of the others, Well Chief is loveable in the extreme. In my experience, 'loveable' horses tend to be expensive to follow, as when I backed him in the 2008 renewal where he bailed at the second fence as the even money favourite. I wasn't gloating about my 2/1 voucher any more... He could win, but there are too many negatives (including the fact that he's got glass shins) and he might not even make it to Chelts.

Barker is the 'dark horse'. He's got no Cheltenham form - in fact, he's got very little form. He does have a cut and dried verdict over Forpady, though again the ground would have been against my boy and in favour of the plumper of the Two Ronnies... Moreover, he's never raced outside Ireland, and his Topspeed figures give him an absolute mountain to climb. Too dark - don't believe the hype.

Petit Robin and Planet of Sound round out the top mob in the betting, and the former was third in the race last year. He's in the right care (Nicky Henderson), is the right age, a French bred (won the last three, and four of the last six), and has scope for improvement.

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The 33/1 is certainly tempting with the slight caveat that he was withdrawn from both the Tingle Creek and the Peterborough Chase in recent weeks. Still, he's been close to Master Minded twice, and has a bronze medal from last year's Champion Chase, so 'double carpet' may represent very good value.

Planet of Sound is a British bred, which is a negative in the race in recent years; was beaten over five lengths in the Arkle by Forpady; and he's been racing over further than two miles, suggesting the Ryanair Chase may be the Festival route.

Most Likely Winner: Master Minded (7/4, no bet)

Best Each Way (nap): Forpadydeplasterer (10/1, most firms)

Best Long Shot (e/w): Petit Robin (33/1, Stan James, Ladbrokes)

********

I'm finally back in dear (c)old Hackney, after my sojourn in the States. That was truly an amazing experience, and I'm very fortunate to have crafted a business that allows me to operate anywhere on the planet (as long as there's mains electricity and internet capability - oh, and ideally beer and horse racing!).

When time permits, I'll write up my journey for any of you who are interested (no problem if you're not, it's obviously off topic). But, as a reminder of just how long I was away - six and a half weeks - I've finally managed to get the Breeders Cup video onto youtube. It was a very big file and kept crashing out on me, but it's up there now, and you can view it - should you so wish - by clicking the box below:

[SIDE NOTE: if you're not fussed for the US National Anthem, you can move the time slider from 1:24 to 2:52... All American viewers are honourbound to listen to the full video ;)]

As wonderful a trip as it was, it is fantastic to be home, despite the temperature differential (from 25C to 0C is a bit of a shocker), and despite my bags failing to arrive with me for the THIRD time during my travels (unbelievable).

I'm really looking forward to getting back into the equine swing of things, and have lots planned for next year. In fact, next year, I will be embarking on an additional new role, where I'll be offering some of you the chance to follow in my virtual footsteps (or, more correctly, fingersteps) and start your own business online.

If that might be something of interest to you, look out for more news early in the New Year - and if it's not of interest, don't worry, I'll still be offering my thoughts on racing, races, and racing systems (because that is my true passion; although running an internet business is becoming quite a consuming pastime too!)

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Many thanks to those of you who applied for the Irish racing article writer role. Your time and effort in applying is very much appreciated. I'll be going through your submissions over the next couple of days, and will be in touch with all of you to personally thank you and to let you know how things will move forward.

Applications are no longer needed, so if you didn't email me already, there's no need to now.

********

Finally, I've news of the Geegeez geegees.

Obvious had her first run after a three month injury break last Friday, and it would be true to say we were all rather disappointed. She was going very well at home and, despite it being a weak looking contest,  she was well beaten.

I was traveling so unable to be at the track, and it subsequently transpired that she had a very bad four hour journey in the horse box, due to snow and ice. When she got to Southwell, she got very upset as well. Some of you may have noticed her drift on Betfair, and I imagine the two events were related.

As if that wasn't enough, her usual jockey, Amir Quinn, was also struggling to get to the track due to the weather. In the event, we had a claimer on board, and he put Obvious into a six-way battle for the lead. She was very stressed already, and gave best quite rapidly.

The long and short is that a) her handicap mark will diminish as a result of this, and b) she is better than she showed.

Her next race is likely to be mid-January, and we will hope for considerably better.

Baggsy, our other club horse, continues to train up after a slight knock from her last race, and she's being aimed at a race in mid-January as well, probably at Lingfield. This will be her third run in a maiden, after which the handicapper will pass his verdict and we'll see what happens after that. We're very hopeful of finding a race (or two) with her, as the winter progresses.

Finally, Night Orbit is doing great. He was pulled from the Ascot race last Friday, and is instead entered at Wincanton on Boxing Day. It's a qualifying race for the Pertemps Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival, and the dream at this stage is to be present as an owner at that great meeting. Running placed or winning is too much to hope for probably, but just being there will be amazing. Fingers, toes and other appendages are firmly crossed.

That's all for today and, as there's nowt to note between now and Boxing Day, I'll be taking a few days off from the blog (busy working on those other things I've mentioned in recent posts), but will be back before the New Year.

In the meantime, please accept my very warmest wishes to you and your families for a

VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS

😀

Matt

Heeeere’s Punchy!

I think I've categorically confirmed my preference, dear reader, for jumps racing over flat today. Having opened up the cards at Punchestown this afternoon, and compared it with the seemingly insoluble conundrums (conundra?) at Newmarket this weekend, I know that my heart belongs to the sloggers!

It's not that flat racing doesn't quicken my pulse, or stir my imagination, or indeed any of the other frequently meted out, oft-used, terribly hackneyed cliches about racing exhilaration. It's just that, well, I feel... more confident... when betting jumps horses. Curious when you consider how many bloody obstacles they put between a good horse and the winning line, even before you've accounted for the opposition!

Enough preamble, let's have a look at the action. There are three Grade 1 races today, and all of them feature a Cheltenham Champion. Go Native, Cooldine, and the exceptional Master Minded are the triumvirate of top class title holders. But can they win this arvo? Let's take a look...

First up, at 4.20, is the Champion Novice Hurdle. And I'd say that's a fair enough name for a race that features the Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner, Go Native, and the horse that would have been favourite for the race had not injury precluded his participation (Hurricane Fly).

The latter is odds on, based on his previous impressive form, which included a convincing ten length tonking of Go Native in a Grade 1 novice at Leopardstown. Were both horses to show up to that level of form, there could only be one winner.

But the season has been long and meandering for this field, so let's consider the trends (thanks again to Tony Mac for his kind assistance):

- No British trained winner for a dozen years (scratch El Dancer and Riverside Theatre)

- 15 of the last 16 winners were 5 or 6 years old (Fosters Cross, at 7, has a tough stat to defy)

- The last ten winners all came from the first four in the betting (take out Dundrum and Fisher Bridge)

This leaves Hurricane Fly, Go Native, and Kempes. The last named ran a stinker when fancied by me at Cheltenham and I'm loathe to row in with him again today (though that doesn't mean he won't win of course!).

So, unoriginally enough, we're left with the first two in the market.

Given that Noel Meade has won three of the last four runnings of the race, and that Go Native improved 15 pounds from Leopardstown to Cheltenham, and that Hurricane Fly hasn't raced for four months and - whilst an easy winner that day from Go Native - still has to improve to match the latter's latest level of form, 7/2 on the Native is a far better punt that 4/6 on the Fly. In fact, 2/5 about Go Native being in the first three might just be buying money (not that I'd ever advocate such a strategy).

Selection: Go Native

Danger: Hurricane Fly

Next up in the Grade 1 arena is the feature Kerrygold Champion Chase at 6.05. And what a feature it is, with the first two in the market from Cheltenham's Champion Chase matching up again. Big Zeb took a tumble that day, and his form figures - 1FF1 - say everything about his iffy jumping (see what I did there?!). However, he's a very talented unit.

Obviously Master Minded is clear on form and, granted a clear round, will likely win. But...

- 11 of the last 12 winners were aged 8 or over (Master Minded is only 6)

- 7 of the last 10 favourites have been beaten (Master Minded is currently a 1/3 shot)

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One more point that is interesting - to me at least - is that Master Minded is not at his best on the prevailing soft ground. Albeit that it was earlier in his career in France, he has contested three Graded races on very soft or heavy, and fell twice and was 2nd the other start. He was favourite on each occasion.

In summary, he'll probably win, and - to be fair - Big Zeb has far more jumping questions to answer. But the Zeb has won on soft; has notches against all the other contenders, barring the jolly; and he's even money a place on Betfair. At 11/2 with Bet365, he's value against the hotpot.

Selection: Big Zeb (e/w)

Danger: Master Minded

Finally, from a Grade 1 perspective, Cooldine takes on some very dangerous opponents in the Champion Novices' Chase at 6.40. He's 4/6 to win and, again, as the reigning Cheltenham champ in the staying novice department, he has the form in the book. But... although there are only seven runners after the absenteeism of Skip Two, it's highly competitive.

Horner Wells was 2nd at Cheltenham behind Cooldine, and cannot be realistically expected to turn the tables. Goingforporter is a 200/1 shot who wouldn't win if he started now.

Rare Bob ran a massive race in the Irish National to take 4th, but that was just 15 days ago and, by rights, he should be too knackered to win this.

Gone To Lunch too ran a massive race when 2nd in the Scottish National just 10 days ago, but having found it all too much at Chelters behind Cooldine, he's pretty unlikely to reverse that form.

Moskova is a very consistent mare who will love the ground. She's probably not good enough to win this, but she could grab a place at a big price.

All of which leaves Joncol and Cooldine. Joncol has been widely touted in lots of places, but he's yet to race beyond 2m4f under rules (this is 3m1f), and he's yet to race in Grade 1 company. It's a significant step up in class and, whilst he might bridge the gap, I'd rather take Moskova each way at the prices (although you'll only get paid on the first two places).

So there we are - despite the competitive look to it, Cooldine looks the winner to me. Lightly raced, and with nice gaps between his races, his only defeat came over a woefully inadequate 2m1f. The further they went at Cheltenham, the bigger his advantage of what was a fair field. He's got loads of form on soft ground, and - quite simply - I think he's going to win.

Selection: Cooldine

Danger: Moskova (e/w)

Best of luck, and be sure to tune in on attheraces (you can get this from your computer as well if you don't have satellite - just go to www.attheraces.com) - two of the best chasers in training are running, and it's a little better than the action at Sedgefield (with respect to those who will be in attendance there).

Matt

p.s. you might notice a few extra menu items in the left hand sidebar. I've finally got round to adding in some of the reviews / trials I'd previously done for racing systems. They're not all there yet, but they will be. Sorry for the delay in getting this up, and you may find something of interest there. 🙂