Willie Mullins superstar Un De Sceaux tops the 23 entries for the £350,000 Queen Mother Champion Chase on Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 16.
Trained by Willie Mullins, the prolific eight-year-old is the 13/8 favourite for the two-mile chasing championship and has topped the ante-post betting market since his impressive six-length victory in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy at The Festival last year. A total of 11 winners of the Racing Post Arkle Trophy have gone on to capture the Grade One Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the most recent being Sprinter Sacre (Nicky Henderson, 7/2) in 2013. Un De Sceaux is unbeaten in 13 completed starts and the front-runner looked the winner when falling on his other two outings.
Mullins, Ireland’s champion Jump trainer, has also put forward Vautour (6/1), a Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase entry, who produced the standout performance of The Festival in 2015 when running away with the two and a half-mile JLT Novices’ Chase, fellow Grade One scorers Champagne Fever (28/1), Felix Yonger (25/1) andTwinlight (33/1), plus Mozoltov (33/1).
Defending champion Dodging Bullets (Paul Nicholls, 9/1) is one of three previous winners among the 2016 entries, although he has yet to run this season following a setback. The 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase scorer Sire De Grugy (Gary Moore, 8/1) and Sprinter Sacre, who was the breathtaking 19-length winner in 2013, are due to run again.
Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy fought out a thrilling finish to the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on December 27, with Sprinter Sacre coming out on top by three-quarters of a length. The third home Vibrato Valtat (Paul Nicholls, 33/1) is entered for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, while also having the option of the Ryanair Chase a day later over two miles and five furlongs.
Vibrato Valtat started this campaign with a comfortable four-length victory in the Grade Two Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November before finishing third to Sire De Grugy in the Grade One Betway Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park on December 5.
Dan Downie, racing manager for owners Axom, said: “We have been pleased with Vibrato Valtat since Kempton and he will probably go to Ascot a week on Saturday for the Clarence House Chase.
“He ran well in the Tingle Creek but the ground was not as soft as we would have liked. He will always be up against over two miles if the ground is not soft enough because he is unable to show that turn of foot.
“The ground was a bit softer in the Desert Orchid and I thought it was right up there with his best performances. We will be hoping for more of the same at Ascot. He is in the Champion Chase and Ryanair but we are undecided about which we are going for yet. I suppose things like the ground will come in to it.
“We feel that two and a half miles or even further might be his trip ultimately. I remember when he won the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, Noel Fehily got off and said he would get three miles. We haven’t gone that far yet but I would not rule it out in the future.”
Henry de Bromhead and Gordon Elliott have two Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase entries apiece, bringing the Irish-trained entries to 10. De Bromhead has put in last year’s third Special Tiara (12/1), who was arguably an unlucky second to Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek Chase, and Grade One winner Sizing Granite (33/1), while Elliott relies on Bright New Dawn (40/1) and Clarcam (40/1).
Other eye-catching entries include the 12-year-old Somersby (Mick Channon, 33/1), second in the last two runnings of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, who could make his eighth appearance at The Festival, local hope God’s Own (Tom George, 33/1) and fragile performer Simonsig (Nicky Henderson, 20/1), winner of 2013 Racing Post Arkle Trophy. Captain Conan (Nicky Henderson, 28/1) has not run since being pulled up in the 2014 renewal.