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Cheltenham Festival 2011 

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By Dylan Jenear ValueChecker

Horse by Horse Guide to the Queen Mother Champion Chase
16/03/11

 

Big Zeb
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Big Zeb
Big Zeb
Lacked fluency over fences in the past, but has developed into a proficient jumper and enjoyed his finest moment in this race last year when powering home six lengths clear of Forpadydeplasterer, with odds-on favourite Master Minded back in fourth. Beat Golden Silver in his first two starts this season, but found that rival half-a-length too strong in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown last time. However, Barry Geraghty probably found himself in front earlier than he wanted to on that occasion, and he will get a better toe into the race this time; looks the one to beat.

Captain Cee Bee
Landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting in 2008, but missed following season through injury. Proved his ability remains very much intact last term, winning three of his four completed chases (looked likely to win the race in which he fell at the last), and was found to have broken a blood vessel when disappointing in the 2010 Arkle. Cosy winner on return at Naas, but let down by his jumping when last of four to Big Zeb on his latest start at Leopardstown in December. Capable of making his presence felt if putting in a better round this time, though.

Cornas
Smart in his own right, as he demonstrated when scoring at Sandown in January. However, well below par behind French Opera in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last time and looks up against it here.

French Opera
Genuine and very smart chaser whose record over fences at this track reads 1132, his latest effort here was when runner-up to Pigeon Island over C&D in last season’s Grand Annual Chase. Below par on his reappearance at Sandown in January, but back to his very best when readily accounting for six rivals in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month when proving six lengths too strong for Tchico Polos. That wasn’t the strongest renewal of that Grade 2 contest, but he jumps well and the drying ground will not pose a problem, so he should not be underestimated.

Golden Silver
Tough and consistent chaser who has not finished out of the first two in eight starts since finishing a well-beaten sixth to Big Zeb in this race last year. Beaten by the latter in their first three meetings this season, but got the better of Colm Murphy’s charge in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in January. Has failed to fire in two previous visits to this track, but if he does handle the unique undulations this time it’s unlikely that he will be too far away.

I’m So Lucky
Very able on his day, as he proved when landing a Grade 2 in good style at Sandown last spring. On the downside, he’s none too consistent, while he has been beaten a long way behind Master Minded here and at Ascot already this season.

Mad Max
Imposing gelding who did little wrong as a novice during 2009/10 campaign. Finishing a creditable fourth to Sizing Europe in the C&D Arkle Chase before proving nine lengths too strong for Somersby over 2½m at Aintree’s Grand National meeting. Ran fairly well in a couple of competitive handicaps at this track earlier in the season, but was 20 lengths adrift of Master Minded at Ascot last time.

Master Minded
Beaten just four times in 15 starts for the champion trainer since coming over from France, and his performance in the 2008 renewal of this race was nothing short of breathtaking. Also landed this prize in 2009, but has since lost his air of invincibility, having been beaten almost 10 lengths when fourth to Big Zeb in the 2010 Champion Chase. Looked back to something near his best in his first two starts this season, but only just scraped home by a short head from Somersby at Ascot in his latest start. Obviously a major player, but can’t help thinking that he’s vulnerable nowadays.

Sizing Europe
Former high-class hurdler and successful in his first five starts over the larger obstacles, including when holding on well to master Somersby in the Arkle Chase over C&D at last season’s Festival. Been beaten in all four starts since, though, and while he was possibly found wanting for stamina in first two outings this term, he looked rather one-paced when beaten over seven lengths into third behind Golden Silver and Big Zeb in the Tied Cottage at Punchestown last time, so has a fair bit to find.

Somersby
Finished third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting in 2009, and has made up into a classy chaser subsequently. Finished runner-up to Sizing Europe in last season’s Arkle, beaten less than a length, and arguably produced a career-best effort when just failing to get to grips with Master Minded in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot last time. Slight concern that, with the ground drying out, he may not get the stiff test that he needs at this trip (shapes as though he’ll stay at least 2½m), but if the pace is strong that will play to his strengths, so he cannot be dismissed.

Woolcombe Folly
Failed to beat a rival home in last season’s Arkle, but was clearly below par on that occasion, while it was just his second start over fences. Has won all three of his subsequent starts, including two races over C&D, most recently landing a competitive-looking handicap under top weight by six lengths from Tanks For That. Clearly the stable second-string behind Master Minded – and he does need to step up significantly to win a strong renewal of the Champion Chase – but the champion trainer wouldn’t run him here if he thought he would disgrace himself, so he can’t be ignored.

Conclusion:
If back to his best Master Minded would win, and win well. However, BIG ZEB looked pretty good when winning this race last year and it's not hard to envisage him retaining his crown. Somersby will be a major threat if they go hell for leather in the early stages, while French Opera is a fairly appealing each-way option.

Recommendation: BIG ZEB

 

 

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