Ante-post focus: 2017 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Just 28 horses have been entered for the 2017 running of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Twenty-seven of those have the arduous task of beating current race-favourite Douvan. Best-priced 1/3 at the time of writing, that tells you all you need to know about a horse Willie Mullins described as “potentially the best I’ve ever trained”.

We won’t get rich backing Douvan, but with him taking such a sizeable chunk out of the market, we may be able to obtain some each-way value or, possibly explore the route of backing a horse in the ‘without Douvan’ market.

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase ante-post preview

At the prices, there is obviously little point wasting time talking about Douvan. At 1/3, it will be the shock of the Cheltenham Festival if he doesn’t win, such is the gap in ability the rest of the field trail him. Quite simply, he’s the full package, a special talent.

The closet horse to Douvan in terms of ability is Un De Sceaux (14/1 in a place), his stable mate and last season’s runner-up in this very race. It’s highly likely the nine-year-old will run in the Ryanair this season however, meaning Douvan’s task will be made easier. It also means Un De Sceaux is an easy swerve in this piece.

Take out the latter of the Mullins runners and we are really thin on the ground in terms of credible opposition to the favourite. I wouldn’t be quick to knock the race for that however, it’s merely a case of racing being in the midst of a special horse. Let’s enjoy him.

God’s Own (20/1) has the quality to run well in this race, but I feel he’s best served by running in the Ryanair this season. Tom George’s inmate was put up as an ante-post bet in the Ryanair ante-post preview, but since that piece, George has made it public that his charge will be aimed here. That’s disappointing news, but there is still plenty of time for change.

Should connections decide to run here, I’m happy to take him on over this trip. As we saw in last year’s Champion Chase behind Sprinter Sacre, he couldn’t lay-up with the field when the race started in earnest before he kept on for a well-held fourth.

Fox Norton (8/1) is one horse who will have little trouble laying up during the heavy skirmishes of the Queen Mother. Now in the care of Colin Tizzard having been bought by owners Alan and Ann Potts, this fast improving seven-year-old has youth on his side in comparison to a number of Douvan’s other rivals.

While the case, he has faced Douvan twice and both times come out badly on the wrong side. The son of Lando has to make up 11 lengths on their Arkle meeting and 32 lengths on their clash at Aintree.

To be fair to Fox Norton, he ran a perfectly good race at last year’s Cheltenham Festival before a combination of soft ground, poor early positioning and never being able to land a blow contributed to his heavy Merseyside defeat.

This season he has looked a completely different proposition, however. He was so far ahead of his 146-rated mark in a handicap at Cheltenham in October, the field couldn’t even lead him to the top of the hill. From there, he coasted to a hugely impressive 11 lengths victory before taking a step up in grade in his stride.

In winning the Grade 2 Shloer Chase by nine lengths on his next start, Fox Norton put himself firmly in the Champion Chase picture. Now best-priced 8/1, we haven’t seen the Tizzard inmate since, connections reporting he tore the hair off the back of a tendon and he needed rest.

He is due to reappear in what could be a blockbuster renewal of the Game Spirit at Newbury against the likes of brilliant novice Altior and former Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy. We’ll have to see how he goes there on the back of an interrupted training period.

Best of the Rest

Small fields have sadly been a mainstay of recent Champion Chase renewals and this year – especially if Douvan runs – will probably be no different. Of the 28 currently entered, it is highly unlikely the likes of Altior, Black Hercules, Champagne Fever, Sizing John, Un De Sceaux, Uxizandre and Vroum Vroum Mag will run here.

Many entered simply don’t look good enough, have well-being to prove and hold entries in other races. With that being the case, it’s a nice race to play in at this stage and some serious each-way value could be obtained.

The standout value horse on the pick of this year’s form has to be Sir Valentino (40/1). One of two Tom George equines entered – the other being God’s Own – the eight-year-old has returned this season the near complete article.

He’s now run 19 times over fences and looks quite exposed in comparison to some entered, but on his sixteenth chase start, he showed improvement and maturity. A fine, big horse, the son of Early March may just have clicked mentally and physically this season. His win – on top of two other good runs – in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter has officially seen him improve 11lb from 147 to 158.

He has since finished a sound 5th in a sound Tingle Creek and finished second in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid at Kempton. His Sandown run behind Un De Sceaux can be upgraded. A rare lapse of concentration from Noel Fehily saw Sir Valentino playing early catch up in the toughest race of his career, a bad mistake down the far side not helping either before he ran on to be beaten 5 ½ lengths.

A career best came on his next start at Kempton over Christmas, dispelling any doubts about being flattered in the Tingle Creek. Giving last year’s Champion Chase third Special Tiara 6lb, he narrowly went down by half-a-length, a bad mistake two out not helping his cause.

On that form alone, it’s a huge surprise to see a horse that is obviously improving sitting at 40/1. OK, it was a four-runner event and Sire De Grugy unseated early with the third horse tailed off, but on his day, on good ground, on a flat track, Special Tiara is a Grade 1 horse. The time of the race was good, meaning it’s form to respect.

Garde La Victoire (33/1) was the chief sufferer when finishing second behind Sir Valentino in the Haldon Gold Cup. He only went down by a short-head at Exeter, just failing to give the winner 4lb. He’ll meet the George horse on better terms come March, but I’m not sure he’s improving like him.

Philip Hobbs’s charge has a hell of a lot of ability, but his jumping has never convinced. He can be quite low and stiff-looking over his obstacles, too, and that may be found out over two miles on decent spring ground.

A favourable mention must go to Special Tiara (25/1). He’s been sixth, third and third in the last three Champion Chases and is a good horse on his day, but he’s now ten-years-old and maybe hasn’t got the scope to improve any further. Given his Kempton run over Christmas, it’s a surprise he is so much shorter than Sir Valentino in the betting.

A year older again, Sire De Grugy (25/1) is probably best watched at this stage, too. The 11-year-old won this race three seasons ago and has remained in good form this campaign, but father time is creeping up on him.

Like Sire De Grugy, Gary Moore trains the classy pair of Ar Mad (25/1 in a place) and Traffic Fluide (33/1). Both were touched upon in the Ryanair piece and swerved there and it’s the same case again here. These are two quality horses, but they have struggled with injury over the last year.

Uxizandre (25/1) made a brilliant comeback at Cheltenham last weekend and has the ability to run well here, but he looks a Ryanair horse to me.

The Final Verdict

A race that revolves around Douvan meaning ante-post backers taking him on will need an act of mother nature to turn over the brilliant seven-year-old. His presence does mean there are plenty quality horses in double figure prices that could offer some each-way value, though.

Fox Norton is the horse most likely to run second to Douvan with the likes of Un De Sceaux and Uxizandre potentially Ryanair bound. While the case, he’s been well found in the market and must overcome a setback on the run up to the Festival. His fans can take solace in the fact Colin Tizzard reports him to be in great shape – at the time of writing – but it would be nice to see it on the track again.

God’s Own I like, ability wise, he’s near the top of the 28 horses entered, but his effort in last season’s Champion Chase stunk of a horse wanting to go out in trip. His run behind Un De Sceaux in this season’s Tingle Creek also suggested he could thrive over further.

The aging pair of Sire De Grugy and Special Tiara accompanied by the injury-prone duo of Ar Mad and Traffic Fluide don’t offer as good a value as Garde La Victoire and Sir Valentino, but with the former’s jumping still not convincing and the latter looking a progressive horse, SIR VALENTINO gets the nod.

Tom George’s inmate just looks a completely different animal this season and his two runs in the Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid mean he is well entitled to be here. I honestly think he should be half the price he currently is and sitting in front of Special Tiara in the market.

Being eight, there is every chance he could improve again and while his record going left-handed doesn’t inspire, he has jumped left at times this season.

Forget what you’ve seen on the old Sir Valentino and judge him on this campaign’s three impressive runs.

Advice

1pt each-way Sir Valentino @40/1 (general)

1.5pts each-way Sir Valentino ‘betting without Douvan’ @20/1 (Bet Victor), @18/1 (Betfair), @16/1 (Paddy Power)

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