Defending champion Sizing Europe is one of 10 horses to stand their ground in the £320,000 sportingbet.comQueen Mother Champion Chase (3.20pm), the feature on Ladies Day at The Festival, Wednesday, March 14, following today’s six-day confirmation stage.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained 10-year-old was an emphatic five-length winner of the two-mile chasing championship last season and this year he will be bidding for his third consecutive success at The Festival after taking the Racing Post Arkle Chase in 2010. He has been in fine form this season, winning three of his four starts including last time out when he slammed his old rival Big Zeb by 15 lengths in the Grade Two Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on February 5. Prior to that he had put the cream of the British two-mile chasers in their place with an imperious eight-length victory in the Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December. Sizing Europe is priced at Evens by the race sponsor to win again.
Despite that defeat at Punchestown last time, Big Zeb has also been in good form this season, claiming his third Fortria Chase at Navan in November before adding a sixth Grade One to his CV when readily beating Noble Prince in the Grade One Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. He will be chasing a second victory in the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase after capturing the prize in 2010.
The Irish could also be represented by another strong contender in the shape of Noel Meade’s three-time Grade One winner Realt Dubh. The eight-year-old has not raced since May, 2011, but he boasts some very smart novice chase form which includes victories in the Irish Arkle and Powers Gold Cup either side of a fine third in the 2011 Racing Post Arkle Chase at The Festival.
Meade, based in Co Meath, said: “Realt Dubh is currently 50-50 to run in either the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase. I am not sure yet, but we think he is in great shape and he seems well. We have been really pleased with his work – he worked at Navan on Monday and we were very happy with him.
“He had a bit of a setback before Christmas, which took him some time to get over and it held us up so we haven’t had time to run him.
“We have often wondered if he would get the full two miles and five furlongs around Cheltenham, hence why he is in the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase as well. We are still very much open minded about it and it would also depend on what is going to run in both races.
“I think better ground suits him better. He is a very decent horse – he won three Grade Ones last season so he is a good horse.”
The British challenge could be headed by Somersby, who finally gained his first Grade One success when fighting off Finian’s Rainbow in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot in January. Finian’s Rainbow, who finished second in last season’s Racing Post Arkle Chase, had made a successful reappearance at Kempton in the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas, where he narrowly got the better of Wishfull Thinking.
Kauto Star’s half-brother Kauto Stone is still engaged despite a disappointing effort in the Betfair Ascot Chase last time, but prior to that he had put up a decent performance behind Sizing Europe in the Tingle Creek Chase, when beaten eight lengths.
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins may run Blazing Tempo, the only mare left in, after her success in the Grade Two Normans Grove Chase at Fairyhouse on January 22. The confirmations are completed by Gauvainand the David Pipe-trained I’m So Lucky.
Latest prices from sportingbet.com: Sizing Europe Evens, Big Zeb 9/2, Finian’s Rainbow 9/2, Somersby 8/1, Kauto Stone 14/1, Wishfull Thinking 14/1, Realt Dubh 16/1, Blazing Tempo 25/1, Gauvain 28/1, I’m So Lucky 50/1
Meade also has a leading chance in the £100,000 Grade One Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (2.05pm) in the shape of Monksland, who is one of 34 remaining entries for the two mile, five furlong contest.
The five-year-old was an impressive winner of the Grade Two Slaney Novice Hurdle at Naas in January and Meade is very pleased with him.
Meade commented today: “Monksland is on course for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. We are very happy with him and touch wood everything has gone well so far. He has finished all his work now, so hopefully we will get him there.”
The opening four-mile £75,000 Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase (1.30pm), the longest race at The Festival, has 34 horses going forward including antepost favourites Harry The Viking, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and the Willie Mullins-trained pair Allee Garde and Soll.
Grands Crus is one of 16 possible runners in the £130,000 Grade One RSA Chase (2.40pm), the extended-three-mile championship for novice chasers. Trained by David Pipe, the grey is unbeaten in three starts over fences, including the Grade One William Hill Feltham Novices’ Chase and still holds an entry in Friday’s Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The £70,000 Coral Cup (4.00pm) is one of the most fiercely competitive handicaps at The Festival and a maximum field of 28 looks assured after 103 entries remain in the two mile, five furlong hurdle, while the £60,000 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.40pm) has 57 horses going forward including Alan King’s Vendor, who is one of three possible starters for the Barbury Castle handler.
In the concluding £55,000 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (5.15pm) 25 horses remain and Willie Mullins, who has won the race six times, has left in four horses including leading fancy Champagne Fever.
The going at Cheltenham is currently:
Chase & Hurdle Courses – Good, good to firm in places (watering)
Cross Country Course – Good to firm, good in places (watered in parts)