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Form is fleeting but class is permanent. It’s an adage beloved by tipsters but in the case of Douvan scarcely relevant given the six-year-old’s abundance of both and punters will need binoculars to look beyond the 1/4 French favourite over the mile and seven furlongs of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday.
A winner in all 13 of his races for owner Susannah Ricci, an unbeaten sequence going back to 2014 which includes victories in the Grade 1 Arkle Chase and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the gelding looks unbeatable at Prestbury Park and would give trainer Willie Mullins his first success in day two’s signature race.
With Ar Mad declared a non runner and 2016 champion Sprinter Sacre enjoying his retirement, the main threat to what could be a Douvan procession is expected to come from Colin Tizzard’s Fox Norton, a convincing winner by nine lengths of the Shloer Chase on soft ground at Cheltenham in November, who is 7/1 to cause a major upset. The last time the two horses met however was in the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April, Douvan romping home comfortably ahead of The Game Changer with Fox Norton some 32 lengths adrift in third.
Other Champion Chase hopefuls include the Tom George trained 12/1 God’s Own, the winner of the Champion Chase at Punchestown last April, and 16/1 Special Tiara, the Desert Orchid Chase victor at Kempton in December.
The first race of day two is the Neptune Novices Hurdle and following the news that Finian’s Oscar wouldn’t run all the talk has been about the battle between Neon Wolf (7/4) and Bacardys (3/1). The Irish favourite has two wins from his two assignments in 2017, most recently in January in the Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock in, and although the six-year-old Bacardys has also tasted victory this year at Leopardstown, Neon Wolf looks the stronger of the two.
The third last race of the day is the Glenfarclas Chase over three miles and seven furlongs on Cheltenham’s cross country course and the pints of Guinness will doubtless be flowing ahead of a race which promises to be dominated by Ireland and JP McManus. The legendary Irish owner has the three shortest priced horses in the field in Cantlow (9/4), Cause of Causes (4/1) and Auvergnat (7/1) and it’s hard to envisage anyone else gate crashing their party.
The trio all clashed in the Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in January and it was Cantlow, ridden by AP Heskin, who emerged with the bragging rights after coming second behind Urgent De Gregaine. Cause of Causes was fifth while Auvergnat failed to finish after unseating Rachael Blackmore while still in contention.
The RSA Steeple Chase boasts a clear favourite in the Nicky Henderson trained Might Bite (7/2) but the seven-year-old faces stiff competition from the French duo of Acapella Bourgeois and Alpha Des Obeaux, both priced at 6/1. A solid jumper, Might Bite has won at Cheltenham before – beating another French horse, Souriyan, in the Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle back in April 2015, and was also successful last time out at Doncaster.
Acapella Bourgeois is making his Cheltenham debut this week but Alpha Des Obeaux does have experience of Prestbury Park, coming home a respectable second in a field of 12 to Thistlecrack in the World Hurdle at last year’s Festival.
The seventh and final race of Day Two is the Champion Bumper. Last year’s winner Ballyandy ran in the Supreme Novices’ Hurlde on Tuesday and with a field of inexperienced four and five-year-olds, it is a race with something of a reputation for unpredictability.
The Willie Mullins trained Carter Mckay is the favourite nonetheless at 4/1 following victories at Leopardstown and Naas in the only two races of his career to date while second favourite Western Ryder (7/1) is marginally more seasoned with four outings so far, his most recent a second-place showing over two miles in the Bumper at Newbury in February.
After a surprise win from Labaik at 25/1 in the Novices Hurdle today, Grosvenor Sport continues its ‘Double the Odds’ campaign tomorrow with the Neptune Hurdle at 1:30pm.
Be sure to place your horse racing bets ahead of what’s sure to be a thrilling Day 2 at Cheltenham.