A modern day record of 33 entries is revealed today for the £350,000 Grade One Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the highlight of Ladies Day at The Festival, Wednesday, March 11. The previous highest number of entries was 32 in 2002.
The latest four winners of the two-mile chasing championship are entered; last year’s hero Sire De Grugy (Gary Moore, 11/2 second favourite), breathtaking 2013 victor Sprinter Sacre (Nicky Henderson, 5/2 favourite), 2012 scorer Finian’s Rainbow (33/1, Nicky Henderson) and the veteran 13-year-old Sizing Europe (50/1, Henry de Bromhead), who was successful in 2011.
Sprinter Sacre has been off the track since pulling-up in the 2013 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park but is set to return in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase on January 17 while Sire De Grugy is due to make his comeback in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on February 7.
Irish handler Henry de Bromhead has three entries, including Sizing Europe who is set to make his seventh appearance at The Festival.
The tremendous chaser, who ran in the 2008 Champion Hurdle, took the Racing Post Arkle in 2010, won the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year, was second in the 2012 and 2013 renewals and finished fourth last year.
He recorded his eighth Grade One victory in the Punchestown Champion Chase in April and got the better of subsequent dual Grade One victor Road To Riches by a head when landing the Grade Two PVC Champion Chase for a fourth successive year at Gowran Park in October.
Sizing Europe turned in a rare lacklustre performance on his latest start when sixth to Champagne Fever (Willie Mullins, 8/1) in the Grade Two Clonmel Oil Chase on November 13.
De Bromhead said: “Sizing Europe is well and in good form. We are just taking it one race at a time with him at the moment, but it is better to be entered at Cheltenham rather than not. That was our thinking anyway. He is in the Clarence House at Ascot next weekend but I’m not sure if he will travel over. It will all depend on the ground.”
De Bromhead has also entered Special Tiara (25/1), who regained the winning thread with a spectacular jumping performance in the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas, and Grade One runner-up Moscow Mannon (33/1).
The trainer added: “The Champion Chase is the aim for Special Tiara. He has come out of Kempton very well and is in great form. We were delighted with him there – it was a brilliant performance – and it was great to get him back on the winning trail again.
We still need to think about whether or not he will run again as I haven’t given it a lot of thought yet. We were happy with Moscow Mannon in Leopardstown and he seems to be in good form after the race. He will probably go for the Champion Chase as well and I would be hopeful of a good performance.”
There are 14 Irish-trained entries, another modern record (previous highest 12 in 2007), with four of these hailing from the stable of the country’s champion trainer Willie Mullins. Mullins’ leading contender appears to be Champagne Fever, who is already a dual winner at The Festival having taken the 2012 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and 2013 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He was also the head runner-up in the 2014 Racing Post Arkle Chase. Mullins could also run Ballycasey (25/1), Turban (66/1) and Twinlight (22/1).
British champion trainer Paul Nicholls is the most successful current handler in the Betway Champion Chase with four successes. He has four entries for 2015, headed by 2011 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victor Al Ferof (9/1), who was third over a mile further in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Our spokesman Alan Algar said: “As sponsors, we are delighted that the last two winners stand their ground, with positive bulletins on their recovery. Although, as bookmakers, we have to be happy to take them both on considering the short timeframe between a prep run and the big day.
Big performances from Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House and/or Sire de Grugy in his intended comeback at Newbury (Game Spirit) will obviously change the whole market. Sprinter is our biggest liability at the moment. We want to keep the right side of Champagne Fever as we feel he will be a big threat if Willie Mullins decides to bring him back in trip.”
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase odds: 5/2 Sprinter Sacre; 11/2 Sire de Grugy; 8/1 Al Ferof, Champagne Fever; 10/1 Dodging Bullets; 16/1 Uxizandre; 20/1 Balder Succes, Simply Ned; 22/1 Twinlight; 25/1 Clarcam, Don Cossack, Hidden Cyclone, Special Tiara; 33/1 Ballycasey, Bright New Dawn, Captain Conan, Eduard, Finian’s Rainbow, Johns Spirit, Mr Mole; 40/1 Somersby; 50/1 Hinterland, Module, Sizing Europe; 66/1 Next Sensation, Baily Green, Moscow Mannon, Savello, Turban; 80/1 Claret Cloak; 100/1 Alderwood, Croco Bay, Upsilon Bleu