Cheltmental’s 2023 Champion Chase Preview
Cheltmental's Champion Chase Tip3:30 pm Wednesday March 15
The Champion Chase is the Championship race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival, and has seen some big name winners, including:
- Badsworth Boy
- Moscow Flyer
- Master Minded
- Sprinter Sacre
Last year saw Willie Mullins’ Energumene romp to an 8½ length victory, ensuring the trophy went back to Ireland for a second successive year.
This year should be a superb renewal, with Energumene bidding to retain his crown, but he’ll face a tough test from the likes of Edwardstone, Editeur Du Gite and Blue Lord. Here, racing expert Dave Young (A.K.A. Cheltmental) guides us through the key runners and gives us his advised bet for the Day 2 feature.
The first horse for Willie Mullins to land the Champion Chase and that ticked the box for a complete set of Championship races now secured by Irelands top trainer. Al Boum Photo gave Mullins a quick fire double of Gold Cups by landing back to backs so could ENERGUMENE do the same and prove it really is like buses?
He’s currently favourite to do so, but an unconventional one considering he was well beaten last time out, with no injury or ground complaints, simply ‘the white bit on the British fences’ was to blame. Now that’s feasible when jumping is the name of the game at this level but it’s a reach to completely ignore the fact he’ll have to face those same fences again and all is now fine. He made mistakes last year too, but with Shishkin never in the race and Chacun Pour Soi unseating, he was more than a stone clear of the remainder so should have won as he did. That run also came on the Old course vs his recent defeat on the New.
9yo’s win this race plenty, in fact 5 of the last 13 were of that age, but only 2 of the last 10 so there’s nothing to say he’s over it now, especially when Sprinter Sacre & Special Tiara won recently as 10yo’s. Since 1995 there’s only been two horses to win Back to Backs which was Master Minded as a 5 and 6yo in 08/09 then Altior as an 8 and 9yo in 18/19. Sprinter Sacre managed to win two but 4 festivals apart and I guess I’m trying to say; is Energumene in that bracket of absolutely top tier Champion Chasers? Masterminded, Sprinter Sacre, Moscow Flyer, Viking Flagship, Barnbrook Again, Pearlyman all multiple winners of this race, yet all tasted defeat between their titles. So that’s 6 of the last 7 two time winners who were beaten and imagine if we’d written all of those off?
There’s certainly something about Energumene that looks potentially top drawer, he’s a Champion Chaser for a start and his lowest RPR (Racing Post Rating) since his second chase start has been 165 with 6 in excess of 170. You can try to pick holes in those wins by questioning who has he really beaten with a now ‘gone’ Chacun Pour Soi from Punchestown arguably the line that up-held him the most now deeply in dispute. He was downed by Shishkin at Ascot and we’ve seen him now bounce back to confirm he’s a proper horse so taking him as a potential yardstick, Energumene is still very good. Those scalps from his other wins may not carry the most weight in terms of who they were, but you can’t forget that he’s never been asked in those wins either
Maybe the new course and the fences were enough to blame that last run. I think you’d have to either trust that and back him to land this or stay well clear if you can’t buy into the excuse. For me, he’s about the right price around 7/4, so my interest in him is nil.
Arkle hero from last season who proved plenty of doubters wrong (me for one) and while beaten at Aintree after, he was incredible in this seasons Tingle Creek. In terms of depth and the manner of victory, that’s probably the best line of form this term even if Energumene did achieve a higher RPR for his Hilly Way victory in Cork.
My issue with EDWARDSTONE is he’s always looked a bit ‘take-on-able’. I struggled to find anyone who could convince me he was the best 2 mile Novice and just as I was about to accept it, he gets beaten at Aintree. He then slams his rivals in the Tingle Creek, so I’d forgiven the Aintree run but he unseats at Christmas which puts me back on the defensive. I really thought he was going to win by a few lengths in the rearranged Clarence House at Cheltenham after the last but the fact is; he didn’t. He didn’t go by and while he traded incredibly short in running which shows I’m not the only one who thought he’d kick clear, we’re having to trust that Alan King left more to work on as opposed to him just being found out in better company. How much do you leave on a horse following an unseat? How much do you leave on a horse facing the reigning champion? Also when you look at his RPR’s from last season, he hit 167 on his third chase run followed by 166, 162, 164 and 162 which doesn’t suggest he’s the type of horse to find his form with racing or that he’ll peak only in the Spring.
He has posted 173 and 170 this season though, which is a step up from his Novice form. Would he really need much more to land a Champion Chase? The last winners (including the 7lb uplift for the winning mare) are 183, 173, 173, 169, 176 so he’d have been capable on figures in 3 of the last 5.
He’s unseated twice whereas Energumene, for all that he makes mistakes, has never failed to complete. On balance they both have the potential to land this and while he’s narrowly second favourite, he too seems about the right price too.
Cheltmental's Champion Chase Tip3:30 pm Wednesday March 15
EDITEUR DU GITE
Showed some serious resilience to land the Clarence House in January which made him 2 from 2 on the New course at Cheltenham. Career high RPR of 170 following a 167 at Christmas when picking up the Desert Orchid but it’s hard to forget that he was beaten around here on the old course in October off a mark of 153. He was also beaten here last March, in a Handicap, off a mark of 153. In fact his other win on the new course came in a Handicap, with a 5lb claimer off 147 so how much do I really trust that he’s a two stone better horse now compared to 18 months ago; not much.
A top price of 6/1 is understandable, but incredibly unattractive. His two wins which put him at such a short price have his competitors with plausible excuses and let’s not forget he wasn’t even in the proper Clarence House at Ascot such is his love for the Cheltenham track and specifically the new course.
I can’t have him at the prices and I don’t believe he’s up to this, but should the big two both come unstuck, which is plausible, then yes he has a chance, but even then I think there’s better horses out there.
GENTLEMAN DE MEE
Certainly peaks as the season progresses and his defeat of Edwardstone at Aintree had plenty fancying him as a Champion Chaser this term. Unseated when beaten first time up this season and then beaten out of sight in the Tingle Creek it looked as though that Aintree run might have just been a flash in the pan. He jumped better at The Dublin Racing Festival and actually ran out a very ready winner confirming he has the ability to be a very good 2 miler. He posted an RPR that day of 169 and if you consider last season he progressed from 152 in February to 167 in April, he’s not got much more to do in order to suggest he can actually land this.
He’ll want to lead, as will Edietur Du Gite & probably Funambule Sivola, so he’s potentially not going to get his way out in front and has made plenty of serious errors while chasing. His form while able to dictate reads: 1 10 1 1 1 UR 4 1 (5-8), so that’s the key to potentially getting the best, but the 10th came at The Cheltenham Festival over hurdles and the UR was in Naas which is an up and down track.
If he was able to get out in front and not make a mistake then he could win a Champion Chase, but I don’t see that he will jump well enough or be able to get that uncontested lead, so while a top price of 10/1 is tempting, as a 7yo he’s got the chance to show more and the fact he improves as the season goes on, I’m just not sure he’s mentally strong enough to do it at this very top level.
Paul Nicholls knows how to win a Champion Chase, but at the same time he’s not exactly bullish about this lads chance. He’s been quoted to say “It would be no surprise to me if he ran really well and finished 3rd or 4th” which is hardly a glowing forecast. But let’s focus on the case I can make for him.
Paul has won this race 4 times in the last 15 years. Nicky Henderson beats him with 5 of the last 15 but he doesn’t even have a runner this year. Willie Mullins won for the first time last season and he’s had some aeroplanes to target in this over the years with Douvan’s hip fracture arguably the one that got away. Gary Moore (Editeur Du Gite) won this in 2014 while Alan King (Edwardstone) won this race 16 years ago. Essentially they all know how to train a good one, but if you look at the fact Nicholls won this with Dodging Bullets & Politologue, two great horses but both arguably just shy of the very top tier, I see no reason why he couldn’t actually do the same with GREANETEEN.
The horse is pigeon holed as more of a Sandown specialist. There he’s won a Tingle Creek and two Celebration Chases and posted two 171 RPR’s. In 2021 he was a 2 lengths 4th in The Champion Chase before going on to down Altior back at Sandown, but he started that season at Exeter where he won, but only just and achieved an RPR of 158. This season he started at Exeter again where he was ready for his life, and he posted a career high RPR of 173. Yes he was beaten by Edwardstone in the Tingle Creek, but he was sent off at 2/1 there only behind Shishkin in the betting and 3 pointers shorter than Edwardstone. Yes he was beaten the last day at Newbury in the Game Spirit but he was beaten there in 2021 before that solid effort in The Champion Chase and his trainer admits “ Cheltenham suits him a bit better than Newbury”.
This race might cut up to less than 8 runners but it’ll be somewhere around that, so even if there are 7 on the day I’m sure bookmakers will offer 3 places EW. What they won’t offer though is 33/1 about Greaneteen. There’s going to be so much more pace this year than his 4th in 2021 where he was keen but hasn’t been so keen ever since. He made mistakes that day, but I believe he jumps better off a stronger gallop.
Even if every horses posts their best RPR from this season alone he’s 2lb ‘worse’ than Energumene, who has more to answer than some and he’s ‘as good as’ Edwardstone on 173. He’s better than Editeur Du Gite (even more so on the Old Course) and he’s 4lb above Gentleman De Mee who simply won’t get his own way out in front.
Typically I’m a win only or place only type of bettor, but I do think that Greaneteen will have more behind than in front in this race, and I do think that is feasible that others might not run to their absolute best and in doing so I think he’s got a chance to actually land this. Price wise you’d think he’d be a shock winner, but in reality and on known form, he’s right up there so he looks over priced.
At the 33/1 right now it’s equates to an 11/4 winner should he simply place. I only see him shortening and should he go off around 20/1 then an EW play equates to a 6/4 winner so there’s a huge chuck of value to be had getting involved right now.
Calculation for those ‘equates to’ prices:
TOTAL STAKE – 1 EW (33/1 at 1/5 odds) = 2
Ignoring the win element:
RETURN 1 – 33/5 = 6.6 plus half your stake (the place part) = 7.6
RETURN 2 – 20/5 = 4 plus half your stake (the place part) = 5
Comparative odds = RETURN/TOTAL STAKE
Comparative odds 1 – 7.6/2 = 3.8 as a decimal
Comparative odds 2 – 5/2 = 2.5 as a decimal
GREANETEEN @ 33/1 (Bet365)
Cheltmental's Champion Chase Tip3:30 pm Wednesday March 15
I think it’s clear from a look at the top 4 that I don’t think two of them are really good enough to be a Champion Chaser and the other two have their own individual worries so at their respective prices, I don’t see anything to be gained. I do look at this race and think to myself, “if I’m taking a leap of faith to back either of the top two at around 2/1 then why not take a similar leap of faith but on something at a much bigger price” – GREANETEEN looks far too big a price and simply cannot be ignored.
You can find all Cheltenham free bets and betting offers here.