Un De Sceaux to dethrone the old guard in Champion
Published 16/03/2016 | 02:30
The 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30) winner Sprinter Sacre will today attempt to emulate the great Moscow Flyer by winning the race aged in double figures.
But there's a reason the younger horses have a good record here and that's because it's usually run at a fierce pace. Unlike some of the less frantic staying races, it's extremely difficult to recover from a mistake over the two-mile trip so accuracy when jumping is of paramount importance.
I'm sure he'd raise the roof if he came home in front, and having backed him numerous times down through the years, I'll be kicking myself for not being a part of it. But Sprinter Sacre's had a number of problems since his outstanding win three years ago and it's a big ask.
Fair enough, he showed that he's still got something to offer when winning the Shloer Chase and the Desert Orchid Chase this term - but a price of 9/2 or thereabouts is a fair reflection of his chances.
The 2014 winner Sire De Grugy is also aged ten but was beaten by Un De Sceaux and Sprinter Sacre in his latest two races, and there's nothing to suggest the form will be reversed.
Dodging Bullets is worth a mention too having won this race last year. With Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy running far below their best in that renewal, the strength of that form is open to question but to win any race at Cheltenham is a big deal so I'm going to give credit where it's due.
Unfortunately, he's been mostly out with injury and was beaten on his comeback run by Top Gamble in the Game Spirit Chase.
So with question marks over the last three winners of the race, the vote has got to go to Un De Sceaux, albeit at an odds-on price. He destroyed Sire De Grugy in the Clarence House, he has the speed for this type of race - and he jumps aggressively which all points to a first Champion Chase for Willie Mullins.
But paradoxically, that vigorous jumping may actually be his Achilles heel.
He's now fallen twice in his seven races over fences so it will be interesting to see if Ruby Walsh tries to temper his enthusiasm a little this afternoon.
Third in this last year, Special Tiara has place claims although he was beaten fair and square in the Tingle Creek by Sire De Grugy.
In the RSA Chase (2.10), 2014 World Hurdle winner More Of That will probably go off as favourite but I must admit that I've found it hard to get a handle on this horse.
While seven wins from eight runs is a fantastic record, his career has been going in a stop-start fashion for a number of years, and his latest race when winning a three-runner novice chase here in December didn't teach us much.
Previously, he won a novice chase with a bit more depth to it at the November meeting so he certainly has claims, but at the prices he's best avoided.
Gordon Elliott's No More Heroes ticks the right boxes for me. A good hurdler in his day, he's shaping up to be an even better chaser, winning all three starts over fences, although the downside is that he hasn't had a race since December.
Having said that, Don Poli won this last year after a similar break and No More Heroes has done some schooling with Don Cossack which I'm sure has taught him quite a bit.
Stat Attack: Neptune Novices' Hurdle
The Ferdy Murphy-trained French Holly won the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (1.30) at the age of seven in 1998 priced 2/1 but, overall, older horses have a very poor record here.
Since that success, some 50 horses aged seven or older have competed but not one has won. Parlour Games (13/2) and Outlander (4/1) finished second and sixth respectively last year in a race which went to Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park (9/2). Weld (right) saddles the only seven-year-old today, Vigil, which is expected to go off around 20/1.