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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.

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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.

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

 

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.

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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