Geraghty the man to follow suggest Champion Chase trends
The Queen Mother Champion Chase trophy used to spend much of its existence in the office of Paul Nicholls, with the Ditcheat handler winning it four times between 1999 and 2009.
Amongst those victories was that of the youngest ever winner, Master Minded, who won the two mile contest as a five-year-old in 2008, however the tide has turned and punters have since faced a tougher test of their mettle.
That was until the 1/4 shot Sprinter Sacre sauntered to the tapes last season and, despite a valiant effort from 2011 winner Sizing Europe, Nicky Henderson’s star strode to a bloodless victory under Barry Geraghty.
With that win, Geraghty passed Nicholls in Champion Chase wins, recording his fifth success and his third in the last four years, having also taken the prize with Big Zeb in 2010 and Finian’s Rainbow in 2012.
Sprinter Sacre will undoubtedly be a hot favourite for this year’s renewal, should he make it to the Cheltenham Festival in the same sort of physical shape.
Described by his trainer as “the best I’ve ever seen”, the seven-year-old will follow a similar path to last season, as Henderson has ruled out running in the King George, maintaining that his stable star will stick to two and two and a half miles once again.
Michael Dickinson was the last trainer to win the race in four successive seasons, mainly due to the dominance of Badsworth Boy who won three on the bounce from 1983 to 1985, and Henderson will be looking to record his own consecutive hat-trick in March.
It’s worth noting that Arkle winners have a fantastic record when tackling the Champion Chase the following season, with the last 15 years producing seven winners, five seconds and two third places.
This year however there is a conundrum.
The 2013 Arkle was won by Simonsig, stablemate of “black aeroplane” Sprinter Sacre, and whether Henderson will pit the two against each other is open to debate.
The fact that Simonsig is the second-favourite for the Champion Chase suggests that punters may be lucky enough to see such a mouth-watering clash, although a setback has delayed his season so far, and he could easily run in the Ryanair Chase.
Previous Cheltenham form is a key component when pin-pointing the Champion Chase winner, as 21 of the last 28 winners had previously been placed at a Cheltenham festival.
On that front, early pretenders for Sprinter Sacre’s crown could include Baily Green who was second in the Arkle at odds of 33/1 and has since made a pleasing return to action behind Sizing Europe.
The latter, trained by Henry De Bromhead, comes alive at Cheltenham and has now finished second in two renewals of the Champion Chase following his win in the race in 2011.
Whilst Henderson has stolen his limelight, Paul Nicholls has struggled for a top-class two miler but will be hoping that former Supreme Novices’ winner Al Ferof can return from injury and become a legitimate Champion Chase contender.