Andy Gibson Cheltenham analysis: Early thoughts on the Champion Chase

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The outcome of the Clarence House Chase in January has made a serious impact on the market for the 2023 Champion Chase. The belief that Edwardstone and Energumene will both improve past Editeur Du Gite is reflected in the current prices.

Immediately after the Clarence House Chase I was of the view that Edwardstone was the most likely to come out on top should the main three horses take each other on again. I remain of that view, but I also think the current market overstates any possible superiority held by Edwardstone and Energumene over the Gary Moore front runner. Editeur Du Gite has been successful in each of his latest two chases through what he has achieved in the first half of those contests, rather than how he has finished his races off.

One would expect him to be ridden in a similarly positive manner again in the Champion Chase given how successful this strategy turned out in the Clarence House. I am hopeful that the old course will suit him even more and I am fairly confident he will trade much shorter than his starting price in the likely event of his jockey kicking on again from the fourth last fence until the turn for home. Based on the way he finished off the Clarence House Chase, and indeed the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on his previous start, this Gary Moore-trained nine-year-old will likely slow down markedly from two out to the winning post. I would strongly suggest that Tom Cannon had Energumene on his mind in the re-routed Clarence House Chase rather than the eventual winner Editeur Du Gite. As a consequence of him understandably viewing the 4/9 favourite and reigning Champion Chaser as the main threat, he was then in a position where his horse had to make up ground on the favourite before then having to find even more when asked for an extra effort to catch the front runner. He made another big effort immediately after the final fence to make up three or four lengths to join and even head Editeur Du Gite, but paid for those extra exertions by slowing down more than the winner did in the final 200 yards. Given an easier passage through the latter stages and a better starting point from which to make his challenge, I suspect Edwardstone would have won the Clarence House Chase with something to spare. I also believe that Energumene would have finished a fair bit closer but for his blunder at the final fence. That said, I hold the view that Edwardstone would still have comfortably had his measure on that day irrespective of how the reigning champ jumped the final fence. I understand that Willie Mullins is of the view that the markings on the fences were off putting for Energumene on the day and this may well be the case; nonetheless, on the evidence before us, I would strongly suggest that Edwardstone is the rightful favourite for the 2023 Champion Chase. If more rain arrives than is currently predicted before the second day of the festival it may encourage me to take another look. When the outcome of one race takes so much out of the market it might be pertinent to consider what might happen should the Clarence House turn out to be less significant than the market would suggest. For example, if we consider the prices currently available:

Edwardstone 13/8

Energumene 13/8

Editeur Du Gite 5/1

Personally, I feel confident that the winner of the Champion Chase will come from the first three horses to finish in the Clarence House Chase. However, those prices from Corals suggest that this is 94.87% likely to happen which is much stronger than my belief. I would suggest that it is possible to envisage a situation where Tom Cannon and Paul Townend stay closer to Editeur Du Gite from four out to the second last which could well be the strongest part of the race for the Gary Moore horse. We know from various time comparisons that Editeur Du Gite is likely to slow down markedly from two out to the winning post and any horse that stays too close to him will be in danger of doing the same. It is perfectly plausible, therefore, to imagine a scenario where the likes of Nube Negra and Greaneteen are held up off the pace some way behind the two favourites and finish stronger up the final hill as a result. I don't particularly think this is the way that it will pan out, but the reward for acting on that possible outcome could be said to be worth the risk given the elevated prices of those two outsiders. I will be considering this potential course of action closer to the off when the exchange prices and possibly the SFC markets are likely to be even more in favour of such a strategy. I thought that Nube Negra was arguably a slightly unfortunate runner up in the 2021 Champion Chase and on that day, he had Greaneteen a length and a half back in fourth place.

Consequently, it is not too much of a stretch to consider the possibility that one or both of those horses might play a part in the finish of the 2023 Champion Chase. I prefer both of those horses to Gentleman De Mee who is currently trading at a fraction of the odds available for the horses of Dan Skelton Paul Nicholls. The Willie Mullins second string looked impressive in beating Blue Lord by seven lengths in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase in early February. I thought Blue Lord would have finished much closer to the winner but for a very slow leap at the second last fence which cost him his momentum plus a couple of lengths. Sceau Royal was three lengths back in third place and I would suggest that he is not quite the horse he was in previous seasons. It is no surprise to see that Blue Lord will be going for the longer race and I would also suggest that Edwardstone is some way in front of that one. It is of interest that Gentleman De Mee did not take up the running from Dunvegan until the fifth fence at Leopardstown which adds some substance to the notion that Editeur Du Gite should have things his own way in the first half of the Champion Chase. Clearly, if we consider Gentleman De Mee on his last time out effort plus his Aintree form from April 2022 then he would have to be given a chance. On balance, however, I feel he is too inconsistent to be trading at a single-figure price and only just behind the ultra-reliable Editeur Du Gite who, unlike the Mullins horse, has plenty of strong Cheltenham form to his name.

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