By Will Hayler
All you need to know about the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham Racecourse on Wednesday March 13.
When and where can I watch the Champion Chase? 3.30pm Cheltenham, Wednesday March 13. Live on Racing TV.
Which Grade? Grade One. Which Course? Old Course. What Distance? 1m 7f 199y (eight fences)
Prize-money? £400,000. Ages: For 5yo+ which are allotted a BHA rating of 130 or more
Weights & Allowances: 11st 10lb, mares’ allowance 7lb
Key Statistics and Trends:
Despite this being such a high-profile contest, favourites do not have a good recent record with only four of the last 13 successful. However, at the same time, this is no race for shocks - 34 of the last 35 winners had a starting price of no more than 11-1.
Class will out:
Fifteen of the last 16 winners were officially rated 159 or higher (13 of them 164+) and had previously won at least one Grade One race.
A key trial for the Champion Chase is always the Tingle Creek Chase with 10 of the last 17 winners having lined up in the Sandown contest earlier in the season.
Two of the last three winners, Sprinter Sacre and Special Tiara, warmed up by winning the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton. Both the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid were this season taken by Altior.
All but one of the past 11 winners (ASltio last year) were coming into the contest on the back of at least two runs already during the season.
This contest is for specialists at the distance. Bar Master Minded the last 13 winners had run at least eight times over the minimum trip before, with all having registered at least three wins at the same distance.
The foundations of the history of this race stem from the Coventry Cup, introduced by Cheltenham in 1928, and staged for nine years.
In those days, races at a distance as short as two miles were a relative rarity, but the contest was revived decades later in 1959 when the National Hunt Two Mile Champion Chase was created.
It was run under its first title until 1979, after which The Queen Mother’s name was added in honour of her 80th birthday.
Two-mile chasing is a specialist discipline (Sir A P McCoy once called it “the professionals’ race”) and, of The Festival’s championship contests, it has produced both the smallest fields and the most multiple winners.
Only one horse, Badsworth Boy from 1983-85, has won three editions, but there have been 11 dual winners, the first being Fortria (1960-61) and the most recent Sprinter Sacre (2013 & 2016).
Barnbrook Again (1989-90) and Viking Flagship (1994-95) were other high-class dual winners of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the former trained by David Elsworth and the latter by David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson.
Popular grey One Man, trained by Gordon Richards in Cumbria for owner John Hales, made it fourth time lucky at The Festival in the two-mile chasing championship in 1998 after failures in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (twice) and RSA Chase.
The victories of Moscow Flyer in 2003 and 2005 came either side of one for the Paul Nicholls-trained Azertyuiop, one of his great rivals in a vintage two-mile era that also included Well Chief and Flagship Uberalles.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Moscow Flyer was fast and brave through the air with an indomitable competitive spirit. He was 11 when he saw off Well Chief in 2005 (only Skymas, 12 for his second victory in 1977, was older), the last of his 26 victories.
In 2008, Master Minded, trained by Paul Nicholls, became the first five-year-old to win when he made the previous year’s winner Voy Por Ustedes look ordinary on only his fourth chase in Britain after his transfer from France.
He powered clear from two out and the gap between them on the run-in kept extending, despite his being allowed to coast the last few strides and the runner-up being strongly ridden.
Master Minded won by 19 lengths that year, and again by seven the following year. Sprinter Sacre produced an extraordinary 19-length romp in 2013 as he ran away from previous champion Sizing Europe, part of a sequence of 10 victories that included seven Grade Ones and earned a Timeform rating of 192, the highest ever recorded by the annual since the first publication of its Jumping edition in 1975-76.
The fastest time for the Queen Mother Champion Chase is 3m 44.70s, set by Edredon Bleu in 2000.
Last 11 winners:
2018 - Altior
Altior won a dramatic renewal to remain unbeaten over jumps. In the process he was winning at the Festival for a third successive year in a third different race - but for a long way it did look like it would be done quite in the manner many expected.
The tacky ground prevented him from travelling with his usual fluency and only two days ago he was lame with a poultice on his foot.
Coming down the hill it appeared Nico de Boinville was in deep trouble as Politologue, God's Own and Min were all seemingly going better.
Altior showed the guts of a champion, though, and as De Boinville pulled him out, he clicked into overdrive.
The even-money favourite then flew up his favourite hill to ultimately win in style from Min, providing Nicky Henderson with a record 60th winner at the Festival.
The returning Douvan appeared to be enjoying himself on his first run since the same event 12 months ago, but he unfortunately fell before the race really began in earnest.
"I was in serious trouble the whole way round. It's not his ground at all," De Boinville said: ""His jumping just kept him in the race. He's some horse to get me out of trouble."
"He's exceptional. He's the best of the best. That was just sensational. Boy, am I lucky to ride him."
2017 Special Tiara:
Unbeaten in 13 previous starts for Willie Mullins, Douvan was sent off the 2-9 favourite to maintain that sequence of success, but injury struck on the day and he was unable to deliver.
That left the door open for Special Tiara to roll back the years, benefiting from his favoured good ground and a typically thrilling jumping performance from the front under Noel Fehily.
Having finished sixth, third and third in the previous three renewals of the same race, it was a deserved victory for the horse, the pride and joy of owner Sally Rowley-Williams. Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead said: “Special Tiara seemed in great form but it is hard to believe with Douvan and everything else. Our lad just tries his heart out and no horse deserves it more.
“I thought that he jumped the slickest that he has ever jumped. Often, he jumps a bit high but he was so slick today, it's incredible.”
2016 Sprinter Sacre:
Cheltenham witnessed one of the most extraordinary comebacks in the history of the Festival as Sprinter Sacre returned from the wilderness to defeat Un de Sceaux by three and a half lengths.
A brilliant winner of the same race in 2013, he had established himself as one of the outstanding chasers of the modern era in the early years of his career, but a 10-race winning run over fences ended in dramatic fashion when he was pulled up at Kempton in December of the same year and found to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
Sprinter Sacre was treated for the problem but was still defeated three times last season, including when pulled up in the Champion Chase. However he recorded his first success for two and a half years in a race at Cheltenham in November 2015 and somehow completed a fairytale return to the top table here.
“To come back and do that after all that time, it’s incredible,” Nicky Henderson, Sprinter Sacre’s trainer, said in emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure. “The two years in the wilderness were dark days but there was always something there. This is completely different to where he was a couple of years ago. Everybody at the yard has put it all together.”
2015 Dodging Bullets:
Sam Twiston-Davies claimed one of his most significant victories in the saddle when guiding Dodging Bullets, bred by Frankie Dettori and with a pedigree more akin to a Derby winner than a Cheltenham hero, home to defeat 11-year-old Somersby.
A race thought by some to be a head to head between previous winners Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre ultimately featured neither at the finish, with the former labouring into fourth and the latter being pulled up before the final fence.
Hailing the ride given to Dodging Bullets, winning trainer Paul Nicholls said: “I know the other two were past champions but I couldn’t see why they were ahead of us in the betting - it must have been on sentiment. Dodging Bullets was the progressive young horse and it’s them that usually come out on top.”
2014 Sire De Grugy:
It was family celebrations all round at Cheltenham as 11-4 favourite Sire De Grugy scored for Gary Moore, under his son Jamie, to provoke scenes of wild celebration among the friends and family of Steve Preston who jointly owned the horse.
Silencing doubts over his ability to handle the track, the winner glided into contention three out after Special Tiara, Somersby and Arvika Ligeonniere had jousted for the lead from the outset.
Only Somersby was able to sustain any meaningful challenge, but he had nothing to offer once Sire De Grugy had joined him at the last fence and went down by six lengths. Module defied odds of 20-1 to come from a long way back and take third spot, another neck adrift.
Gary Moore, who had watched his son’s fellow riders form an impromptu guard of honour as the winner returned to the winner’s enclosure, said: “He can't do any more than what he's done. He's gone out there today. You need a bit of luck sometimes but Jamie has given him a peach of a ride and I'm just thrilled for everybody involved.”
2013 Sprinter Sacre:
Sprinter Sacre confirmed his status as a superstar of Jumps racing by producing a show-stopping performance, scoring by 19 lengths from 2011 winner Sizing Europe. From soon after halfway, only Sizing Europe, who led at the ninth fence, could live with Sprinter Sacre, but he was nonchalantly put in his place once push came to shove.
“I’ve never ridden a horse that does it all so easily,” said successful jockey Barry Geraghty.
“He has such power and scope and that gives him the time he needs. He’s like Pele on the ball – he does it easily because of his speed and power.”
2012 Finian’s Rainbow:
One of a record-breaking seven winners for Nicky Henderson at the Festival, Finian’s Rainbow played a major part in the £1million accumulator bet that saw the man who led him into the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham, Conor Murphy, ultimately leave the yard to set up as a trainer in the US.
The victory was not without controversy though, the last fence having had to be dolled off after an incident on the first circuit saw Richard Johnson still receiving treatment as the runners approached again.
Finian’s Rainbow and Barry Geraghty and Sizing Europe, the 4-5 favourite, battled it out from the second-last fence. But after clearing what had become the final obstacle, both Lynch and Geraghty were caught unawares by the change of direction.
Both jockeys veered sharply right and in a hard-fought finish, Finian’s Rainbow got the better of Sizing Europe to win by a length and a quarter, with 15 lengths back to Big Zeb in third. But the incident had clearly favoured the winner more than a runner-up. The runner-up’s trainer Henry De Bromhead was a gentleman in defeat, saying only “That’s racing” on the matter.
2011 Sizing Europe:
Following up his success in the previous year’s Arkle Chase, Sizing Europe struck for Henry de Bromhead under a bold ride from Andrew Lynch.
His trainer had been considering going for the Gold Cup earlier in the season and had campaigned Sizing Europe at longer distances, but the decision to come back to two miles for this contest proved fully vindicated.
Master Minded, the 2008 and 2009 champion, was sent off favourite for the Champion Chase under Ruby Walsh but a late blunder scuppered any chance he had.
Lynch said: “He travelled really well and I was afraid something might just quicken past me up the straight, but he's a hardy boy. Henry always said he wanted a strongly-run, two-mile race, and this is the only race all year that really suits him.”
2010 Big Zeb:
Big Zeb laid to rest his jumping demons with a flawless performance to score under Barry Geraghty.
Master Minded was attempting to emulate Badsworth Boy by becoming only the second-ever horse to win the race three years in a row, but Big Zeb was always travelling strongly and had a nice lead into the straight off Forpadydeplasterer.
Colm Murphy's 10-1 winner jumped the last fantastically to seal a six-length victory. Kalahari King ran on from the rear to beat Master Minded for third.
“He had a good look around after the last and I thought he was going to pull up, but he found plenty when he needed to,” said Geraghty.
2009 Master Minded:
It was not as impressive as 12 months earlier, but Master Minded got the job done to land the Champion Chase for a second year running, scoring by six lengths.
Barry Geraghty, on Petit Robin, was the only rival to mount any challenge to the favourite, although the veteran Well Chief, having his first start since April 2007, ran on well in the closing stages to finish second.
“You'd trust this horse with your life, he's so sure of what he's doing,” said Ruby Walsh. “At one of the fences down the back, I asked him for a big one and he changed his mind, but you probably didn't notice because he was so quick at it.”
2008 Master Minded:
Racegoers had been forced to wait another 24 hours after high winds saw Wednesday’s action called off, but the delay proved worthwhile as Master Minded produced an astonishing display to make his mark as an elite two-mile chaser.
Handing his rivals a masterclass in jumping, the five-year-old, sporting the colours of Kauto Star, made a mockery of his tender years to sluice up for owner Clive Smith and trainer Paul Nicholls.
The 3-1 second favourite gained a decisive initiative half-way through the two-mile heat and barely touched a twig en route to a rousing 19-length success from last year's winner and 5-2 favourite, Voy Por Ustedes. Fair Along, trained by Philip Hobbs, finished third.
Nicholls said: “He's awesome for a five-year-old. He jumped absolutely brilliantly. I'm gobsmacked. I knew he was improving at home but he's obviously a hugely talented horse.”
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