Cheltenham Festival 2014: Ageing Europe can regain crown in Queen Mother Champion Chase

 

Cheltenham

The test presented by the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a lightning-fast two-mile, one-lap blitz over fences, is arguably the most specialist of the week and, as such, tends to produce serial success more than any other contest. If the reigning champion does not win, then the up-and-comer who took the previous year's novice equivalent, the Arkle Trophy, often does. But Wednesday's edition is an exception; neither Sprinter Sacre, not quite himself after a heart problem, is here to defend his title nor his brilliant young stable-mate Simonsig, sidelined by injury, to test his own progression. Hamlet without either the prince or Horatio.

So where to look among the remaining cast in a contest that is competitive but lacks a performer to make you catch your breath? The favourite is Sire De Grugy, who was seen to have taken his first Grade One prize, the Tingle Creek Chase, only by default after Sprinter Sacre was pulled up, but who has since not only remained unbeaten but done so with increasing verve and confidence. The eight-year-old has yet to win at Cheltenham – his best performances have come at tracks with a flatter profile – but his eminently capable trainer Gary Moore avers that, this season, he has matured into an athlete capable of coping with the track's demands on strength and balance.

In the absence of his headline acts, Nicky Henderson has pulled a couple of understudies from the wings in Captain Conan and Kid Cassidy; the former, a well-placed triple top-level winner as a novice, deserves due respect and is sure to strip fitter after defeat by Sire De Grugy on his seasonal debut. The Irish challenge is headed by Arvika Ligeonniere, who has mopped up often uncompetitive Grade Ones back home, but is another who may have a track bias; he does seem to operate better going right-handed, particularly on heavy ground at Punchestown, where he has won five times.

Perhaps, though, there is cause to look to the old king. Sizing Europe (3.20), trained in Co Waterford by Henry de Bromhead, took the prize three years ago; in 2012, he was an arguably unlucky loser in a bumping, controversial finish and last year, although he was thoroughly put in his place by Sprinter Sacre, at least he gave him a race until the cause was hopeless, and came in clear of the rest. Statistics do not favour him; only one of his age, 12, has taken the crown (Skymas 37 years ago) and only one, the exceptional Moscow Flyer in 2005, has regained it. He will have the faster ground on which he thrives and at 14-1 looks value for at least a place on his sixth and farewell performance on his favourite stage.

The race that is designed to produce Gold Cup winners of the future – and indeed has done so twice in recent years, through Denman and Bobs Worth – can go to Many Clouds (2.05), who was mugged in the home straight last time after getting into a duel up front but who had previously looked a progressive young stayer. The opening Neptune Novices' Hurdle has an equally good record in unearthing future talent and Red Sherlock (1.30) may unlock this year's mystery.

The Irish make a habit of taking the bumper prize home and Shaneshill (5.15) can give Willie Mullins three in a row. Suggestions for the handicaps are Calculated Risk (2.40), Balthazar King (4.00) and Goodwood Mirage (4.40).

What's in a name?

Faugheen (1.30 Wednesday)

Small village near the border of County Tipperary and County Kilkenny, north of Carrick-on-Suir.

Carlingford Lough (2.05)

Glacial inlet between County Down in Northern Ireland and County Louth in the Republic, with Warrenpoint at its head on the northern shore.

Meister Eckhart (2.40)

A 14th century German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha in the then Holy Roman Empire.

Dell'Arca (2.40)

A 15th century Italian sculptor, best known for work in the Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna.

Captain Conan (3.20)

A fictional French infantry officer, eponymous dashing hero of the Roger Vercel novel set on the Macedonian front during World War One.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions