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.
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.
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