But it’s also the best day because its Big Race, the Champion Chase, is the best race of the whole Festival. without a single solitary doubt. i won’t hear any arguments – no, no, no. It is a fact that the Champion Chase is the very best race of the Festival.
The Champion Chase sounds a bit like the Champion Hurdle (yesterday’s Big Race) but whereas horses can come from Flat racing (pahhh!) to win the Champion Hurdle (like Alderbrook – you see, I’m not bitter…) you have to be a proper horse to win the Champion Chase.
And some of my favourite ever horses have won the Champion Chase – some of them more than once. There were Barnbrook Again, Viking Flagship, Flagship Uberalles, Call Equiname, Voy por Ustedes, Moscow Flyer, Azertuiop, and Master Minded and Sizing Europe. And others! These were great horses and even the years when I left my money with the bookmakers provided great races.
However, in 1997, I had backed quite a few of the horses in the quite small field and yet not the eventual winner Martha’s Son. I was a bit quiet and thin-lipped for a while after that one.
Two years later, in 1999, however, I had an ante-post bet on the winner, Call Equiname, at 25/1 earlier in the year – I wasn’t so tight-lipped in the closing stages of that race. Call Equiname was a brittle horse who was off the course more often than on it. He had won several hurdle races and then progressed to proper jump racing and won over fences too. But he ran only once (and won) in 1997 and not at all in 1998. When he came back to the racecourse in January 1999 to run in the Victor Chandler chase at Kempton I not only backed him to win that race (at 8/1) but backed him to win the Champion Chase a couple of months later (at that very juicy 25/1 – it was only £5 each way but, nonetheless…) too.
Call Equiname beat the favourite, Edredon Bleu, at Kempton and his odds were slashed for Cheltenham but,as I remember it, there was still always a doubt over whether he would be fit and well for that race. He was, and he won again. I just wish, as one always does with the winners, that I had had £50 each way instead of £5 each way!
This year there is the wonder horse, Sprinter Sacre, at ridiculously short odds of 1/4. I won’t be betting on that – in fact I may lay it for a place. Last year’s winner, Finian’s Rainbow (now a non-runner) has a lovely name but awful form this year and the previous year’s winner, Sizing Europe, has an awful name but quite good form – but is also getting on a bit being all of 11 years old. In the last 35 years only Moscow Flyer has won this race as an 11 year old and there aren’t many 10 year olds either.
The three 7 year olds (Sprinter Sacre, Cue Card and Sanctuaire) have all won at Cheltenham but Cue Card is unpredictable (and is now a non-runner, favouring Thursday’s Ryanair Chase) and Sanctuaire is predictably not good enough. Mail de Bievre is 8, but I’ve never heard of him, which isn’t surprising since he has only run twice in this season and last – and without winning in either. At 16/1 he is a tempting each way bet in a race with only 10 runners – but he could easily be 10th at the important end of the race.
Tataniano is 9 but has a very silly name and Realt Dubh (now a non-runner) is 9 but I have won money on him (although he hasn’t won a race for ages). Somersby is 9 even though he seems to have been around for ever. I never back him and don’t usually regret it but he has his moments but they are not winning moments at Cheltenham (he saves most of his winning moments for right-handed courses like Ascot, Kempton, Sandown and Huntingdon).
And Wishfull Thinking and Finian’s Rainbow are both 10 and so teetering on the brink of being past it.
I’m really not sure – I may have several small each-way bets on longer priced horses. But then again, I might not. I might not have a bet – but then again – I might!
Luckily there are several other great races today. The Royal Sun Alliance chase for proper horses who might run in the Gold Cup when they are a bit older. Back in Focus will win this at 12/1 if he runs in it – he may have a go in the first race instead (which he won’t win) in which case it’s between Unioniste and Boston Bob. And the last race of the day is the Champion Bumper which will be won by Sizing Tennessee at 25/1.
As for yesterday – the first race was won by the Irish horse that most people didn’t want to win, Simonsig won me money in the Arkle, Rock on Ruby was second to Hurricane Fly (with Zarkander fourth) and Quevega won her race for an amazing fifth time in a row. Because of frosty weather, Nina Carberry will have to wait until Thursday to win the strange cross-country race. I’m up so far! It was very cold on Day 1 but Day 2 is undoubtedly the best day.
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