By Barry McEneaney
The Queen Mother Champion Chase has to be regarded as a race which revolves around champion elect Sprinter Sacre.
His unbeaten record over fences has seen him earn the soubriquet ‘the big black aeroplane’ from trainer Nicky Henderson, and it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t have the potential to become the greatest two-mile chaser of all time.
Sprinter Sacre looked the winner for most of the way in the 2011 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but tired into third after paying the price for pulling hard in the early stages.
However, the son of Network was clearly an embryonic chaser in the making and anything he achieved over the smaller obstacle was always going to be regarded as a bonus.
He’s never looked like getting beaten since he started his chasing career and is hard to oppose.
Those out to get him turned over will be hoping that he has an off-day, which horse can have, or that he comes a cropper attempting to negotiate one of the 13 fences he’ll face.
However, Sprinter Sacre’s jumping is probably his greatest attribute and has been pretty much blemish-free thus far.
He’s long odds on, with a best-price of 2-7 available about him. That quote looks just about right.
There’s not much more to say about him, except that if he were to drift to 2-5, he’d be a bet!
So what of the upstarts that dare lay down a challenge to Sprinter Sacre?
The three that wouldn’t interest me at the prices are Tataniano, Sanctuaire and third-favourite Mail De Bievre.
Tataniano was hugely promising as a novice, but injury appears to have scuppered his hopes of realising his talent. It will take a Lazarus-like recovery to figure here.
Sanctuaire has won seven of his 19 starts and has ability, but seems particularly quirky.
His record would seem to indicate that he enjoys lording it over inferior opposition, but throws the rattle out of the pram when faced with truly Grade One opposition.
Mail De Bievre is third favourite here, but the relative confidence behind him may be misplaced. The French import travelled with plenty of exuberance on his first start on British shores when contesting the Denman Chase last month, before tiring badly in the closing stages, which prompted the drop back in trip.
Racing over a shorter distance looks a good idea, but dropping from three miles to two is a pretty unconventional way to approach the Champion Chase.
Besides, the strong visual impression he made that day could well be deceptive. It stands to reason that a horse effective over shorter distances will travel well against horses whose metier is staying.
Former champion Sizing Europe should present the sternest test to Sprinter Sacre, as the odds indicate. He should finish in the first two, with the strong likelihood of him filling the runner-up berth behind the favourite.
However, there may not be necessary wriggle-room here to suggest the supposedly obvious each-way steal.
No chase is ever going to be the perfect each-way race, the risk of a fall or of a horse unseating means that punting paragon only exists in its most ideal form on the Flat.
But it is always an objective to find an each-way alternative when there’s a long odds-on shot in a race.
Conspiracy theorists will point out that it’s awfully convenient for the bookmaking industry that just seven go to post here.
Those betting each-way are playing for two places and that really does offer less leeway than ideal. If the dead eight lined up, we’d be looking at three places, and the likelihood of the industry as a whole losing millions on the race as the each-way terms would be just too generous.
Races such as these, in which the place terms are stacked in favour of gamblers, rather than bookmakers, are referred to as ‘bad’ each-way races by the layers.
Anyway, if you are an each-way thieve (even the pejorative term lets you know what bookmakers think of your opportunism), the limitation of only two places is something to ponder.
Back to Sizing Europe, who has looked as good as ever during the current campaign.
His four consecutive wins have been impressive, but you could make a decent argument that his best performance came over two and a half miles at Gowran Park. The Ryanair Chase over the same trip would have suited him really well and connections just might have made an error of judgement in sending him here.
To be effective over the minimum trip, Sizing Europe will have to set a strong pace as the tape goes up.
That seems likely to play into the hands of the often hard-pulling Sprinter Sacre, who will undoubtedly settle better off such a pace, accruing another advantage, as if he needed it.
While he does seem destined for second spot. the scenario where he races a smidgeon too fast needs to be considered.
That could open the way for him to be usurped for second spot by a lesser horse, such as Wishfull Thinking or Somersby.
Wishfull Thinking has well-documented breathing problems, while Somersby is the quintessential triples horse as he doesn’t appear to have the pace for two miles or the stamina for two and a half.
But one of the two could well clinch third and therefore might be of each-way interest in the betting without Sprinter Sacre market.
But for many, this is now a race to sit and enjoy from the sidelines.
Selection: Sprinter Sacre
Alternative: Sizing Europe
Advised staking policy (scale 0-20 points):
Recommendation is no bet