Cheltenham Day 2: The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

A history of the Queen Mother Champion Chase and a preview of this year's race, including a selection.

The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race on the second day of the festival. It’s the leading middle distance event of the National Hunt season and it’s comprised of twelve fences over a distance of two miles. The race is open to entry for horses aged five or older.

Originally called the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, the race was first established in 1959 and only took on its present title in 1980, the year the late Queen Mother, a huge supporter of racing, celebrated her 80th birthday. The 1980 event also saw the first disqualification of a winner when the horse tested positive for a banned substance.

There are two leading jockey’s in the race, Pat Taafe and Barry Geraghty, both with five wins. Tom Dreaper is the most successful trainer with six wins to his name.

From the last ten renewals, the only horses that haven’t won a race are ten-year-olds. Five-year-olds have had one runner and one winner. Six-year-olds have had two winners and three places from ten runners. Seven-year-olds have had one win and one place from twelve runners. Out of these 23 runners, there have been four winners, all of which were French-bred.

There were 27 runners aged eight, producing two winners and two places. Nine-year-olds made up for 22 runners, with three winning and three placing. 14 ten-year-olds were sent out, resulting in seven places but no winners. Ten runners were sent out that were aged 11 or older, yielding one winner and two places. From the 73 runners aged eight or older, there were six winners, five of which were Irish-bred.

From 42 Irish-bred runners, there have been five winners and ten places. From 34 French-bred runners, there have been five winners and five places. British-bred horses have had 13 entries, with only one placing. German-bred horses aged between five and seven have had six entries, with three placing. Interestingly, French and German-bred horses between five and seven years old have had 20 entries, yielding four winners and five places, whereas those aged eight and over have also had 20 runners, but only produced one winner (Sire De Grugy) and four places.

Eight of the last ten winners won a graded chase on their last completed start. Nine of ten winners produced a Racing Post Rating (RPR) of 165+ last time out. Ten out of ten winners had run at least twice, and a maximum of five times, in the build up to the race. Ten out of ten winners had won over two miles and one furlong. Nine of the last nine winners had run between seven and thirteen chases prior to winning the race. Nine of the last ten winners had won a minimum of 55 per cent of completed chases. Nine out of ten winners were second or third season chasers. Nine out of ten victors had finished first in a grade one event.

Arkle runners from the previous season have fared rather well in the Champion Chase, with four winning, three placing and three unplaced from ten runners. The winners of the Arkle won three of the four renewals the following season, with the other runner finishing second. Two out of ten previous winners ran in the Champion Chase the season before, with one of those runners winning the Champion Chase that year; the other was a faller.

The winner of the Tingle Creek is a good indicator, with four entries winning and one placing out of eight runners. The Kingmaker Novice Chase winner is also a very good indicator, with two wins from two entries. The Maghulls Novice Chase winners have had five entries, producing two winners and two places.

Nicky Henderson has had eight entries in the last ten years, yielding two winners and one place. Paul Nicholls has had fifteen entries, including two winners and a place. Gary Moore saddled Sire De Grugy last year, giving him a 100 per cent win to run percentage. Willie Mullins has had zero wins and zero places from five runners since 2000.

Seven of ten winners started off at 5/1 or shorter, with the other three winners were priced 11/2 or higher and trained in Ireland. Favourites have won four of the last ten, with two placing, but still yielded a £1.14 level stake loss. Eleven of the last twelve defending champions have been beaten.

Based on statistics from the last ten years, our selection profile is either a French-bred horse between five and seven years old, or Irish-bred and aged between eight and nine. The selection must have won a graded chase on its last outing, earning a Racing Post Rating of 165+. It must have run over fences between seven and thirteen times, winning at least 50 per cent of these, with between two and five of these chase starts coming this season. The horse must also have won over a distance of two miles and one furlong, while being a second or third season chaser. It’s a good indicator if it won the Arkle or Champion Chase (or another festival race) last season. Another good indicator is a top two finish in the Tingle Creek or the Maghull Novice Chase. The Kingmaker Novice Chase is also a good indicator if it placed first. Nicky Henderson, Gary Moore or Paul Nicholls are the preferred British trainers, but five of the last twelve winners were trained in Ireland.

Champagne Fever comes top when judged on the above criteria; Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets are joint second; Mr Mole and Savello share third position.

The anomaly for the race is Sprinter Sacre, who is technically the highest rated horse still in training. The superstar was coached by Nicky Henderson and should win with a return to form, despite missing the majority of last season through injury. However, after finishing a tired second to Dodging Bullets last time out, it’s difficult to see the son of Network living up to his previous exploits. Therefore, although my heart says Sprinter Sacre, my recommendation is an each-way on Champagne Fever at 6/1.

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