Declan Rix ”THE DR” Cheltenham Queen Mother Champion Chase

The 2011 running of the Queen Mother Champion Chase will undoubtedly be dubbed “The Rematch”.
Big Zeb thwarted Master Minded’s quest to join the great Badworths Boy in being the only three time winners of the two mile steeplechase event. In the end Big Zeb was a very convincing winner where as, Master Minded could only finish fourth. Connections gave quick ground as the reason for a below par performance saying the French bred gelding never let himself down on the ground. Last year many saw this event as a two horse’s race between Master Minded and Kalahari King. We would be foolish to think the same about this years running. Master Minded and Big Zeb dominant the betting, but, the likes of Woolcombe Folly, Golden Silver and Captain Cee Bee will be snapping at their heels if they fail to deliver. Overlooking the result, a fascinating race is in store. There are not many better sights in the national hunt game than top two mile chasers flexing their muscles.

It seemed Big Zeb’s Achilles heel was his jumping. Colin Murphy, his trainer, has done well to iron out the problems he once had. He could be quite deliberate, but, now has grown up and is much more professional. I have to say I wasn’t a huge Big Zeb fan up and till last years Champion Chase. His jumping worried me, but, that problem is hopefully a thing of the past now. The son of Oscar has only had the two starts since last year’s festival win, but, has looked in good shape. Grade Two and Grade One wins over the mud loving Golden Silver show he is as good if not better than last season. The likelihood of better ground will see further improvement and big race jockey, Barry Geraghty, is another massive bonus. He will be a tough nut to crack come the 16th of March.

Master Minded was denied in his quest for three in a row last year. Some say the Gods intervened with the ground coming up livelier than usual for last year’s festival, but, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. This year, he has the chance to put everything right, but, quick ground must be a concern for ante post backers, especially at 7-4. Since his shock defeat the son of Nikos has run into a bit of form, racking up two wins on the bounce. Something that has very much pleased his trainer, Paul Nicholls. Nicholls feels he may be back to the super horse of two years ago. If that is the case, he should be rated a further eight pounds clear of this field. With his jumping looking superb this year, if he is back to his best, the only thing that will stop him is the ground. And unfortunately, forecasting the weather is a skill that still eludes me.

Paul Nicholls has a fist full of top quality entrants in this race and must be a short price to take the prize. He also has Woolcombe Folly at his disposal. A horse that always had plenty of potential, it looks as if he is finally starting to fulfill it now. The son of Presenting has jumped a massive twenty-seven pounds in the handicap and is now at least rated like a proper Grade One horse. He ran in last years Arkle, but, proved to be a huge disappointment. That being said, a line can be drawn through the run as the Nicholls inmate was involved in a schooling accident prior to the run. This year he looks the proper article. Good ground and a strong pace will see him in a better light. The only question is, does he have the class of a Master Minded or Big Zeb?

Last years well backed Arkle flop, Captain Cee Bee, is back to prove his worth. A broken blood vessel was given for the son of Germany’s poor performance, the second time this has happened in his career. However, he later redeemed himself when winning the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase at the Punchestown festival. This season started well for the J.P McManus owned gelding when winning nicely at Naas, jumping nicely the whole way round. He than went to take on the big boys like Big Zeb and Golden Silver, but, came up short in very testing conditions. Quicker ground at Cheltenham will see him in better form and the 14-1 on offer looks acceptable. A sound each-way chance.

Others to the fore in the betting include Sizing Europe, but, a run over the minimum trip looks unlikely as connections may favor a shot at the Ryanair or Gold Cup. The nearly horse of the last couple of seasons, Forpaddytheplasterer, is not really an ante post option due to an alternative arrangement in the Ryanair. Golden Silver looks over priced if the ground came up soft, but, the likelihood of really soft ground is very slim. Another Nicholls horse, Tataniano, is another horse of interest from the master trainer’s yard. The seven-year-old is still very lightly raced and the possibility of better ground will be an enormous boost. His bold front running style may not be best suited to Prestbury Park. Pressure for an early lead would also worry me, but, this horse has time on his side. Jockey arrangements will be extremely interesting if all of Paul Nicholls’ charges run. Gauvain lacks that touch of class and will do well to hit the frame. Kalahari King is not the same horse of late and is another passed over. Somersby is a horse I’ve had a soft spot for, but, the Ryanair looks to be his main goal. Mad Max ran an eye catching race in last years Arkle before a bad mistake two out put paid to any chance he had. 25-1 looks a little generous, but, his form this season has been sub standard and the Ryanair is also an option. Cornas and Craicaway Jack are the two horses that best represent the “crazy bet” with preference for the former.

The race very much looks a match between Big Zeb and Master Minded as they appear the class horses in the race. Sizing Europe, Forpaddytheplasterer, Somersby and Mad Max are not ante post bets due to other engagements. All four lack the true pace to mount of serious winning challenge over two miles, too. Woolcombe Folly is on the up, but, doesn’t interest me at a price of 8-1. At the prices Captain Cee Bee is the horse of real interest at 14-1. My gut feeling is he lacks the class of the market leaders, but, if he lines-up; he won’t be 14-1 on Champion Chase day. He is a high class horse that jumps well and has the necessary pace to mount a serious challenge. Better ground will further aid his cause. Of the “big two” I’d have to fancy Big Zeb. I think he’ll be tough to beat and represents better value than Master Minded.
1pt each-way Captain Cee Bee @14-1
0.5 pts win Big Zeb @7-2
“Crazy Bet” Cornas @33-1


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