Douvan might not be the certainty people think, writes Jack Houghton, and Each Way Edge makes Special Tiara a compelling alternative...
"Special Tiara has run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times, finishing sixth in 2014 and third in the last two renewals. A repeat of that form - especially in a quickly-run race where Douvan is asked to do something new - might be enough to cause an upset..."
A solid first day, my ratings pointing to four of the first seven in the Supreme Novices' and more importantly the Champion Hurdle runner-up, but still showing a loss. Watching that opening cavalry charge, though, has convinced me of the value of Each Way Edge: I just need to play it better.
It's hard to get excited about either of the market leaders in this race. Neon Wolf may have a perfect win record, but he is yet to record a fast time, and his visually impressive January win at Haydock does not read as well as it might after Elgin's average performance in the Supreme. Barcardys has more to recommend him: most notably a fast-ish time last time out at Leopardstown.
Both of them are a fair bit behind Messire Des Obeaux, though, who posted the fastest time of this field at Newbury two outings ago, and who ran well in the Fred Winter last year over a distance that was probably too short to see him at his best. Taking odds of 13/2 but extending the places that pay to the first five makes this race a low-risk betting proposition.
As always, a difficult race to assess on the clock, because so much of the field's form is over hurdles. If taking only their chase performances, then Royal Vacation, Our Kaempfer and Whisper come out well; however, if looking at their whole jumping career, then Alpha Des Obeaux should be considered.
Whisper is perhaps the safest bet at around 7/1, but I'm tempted by a more speculative punt on Briery Belle, who looks to be close to these on her best form over hurdles and fences, and who has run well at Cheltenham before. It requires us to forgive a lacklustre effort at the course in January, but it is worth remembering that she was a 3/1-shot going into that race and one poor jump largely ended her hopes. Using Each Way Edge we can get 22/1 on the first five places. With a clear round, she can be close enough to deliver on those terms.
Douvan is a superb horse who jumps well and deserves to be favourite. His reputation scares off competitors, though, which means this will be the biggest field he has faced over fences except for his debut in a beginners' chase. Small fields typically lead to slower times, explaining why Douvan has yet to post anything as fast as the best two milers of the last couple of decades.
Just because he hasn't, it doesn't mean he can't, but this year's Queen Mother represents a different challenge for him. On the clock, he is only marginally ahead of the best that Special Tiara has produced and, if only focusing on Cheltenham form, the two of them are equally matched.
Special Tiara has run in this race three times, finishing sixth in 2014 and third in the last two renewals. A repeat of that form - especially in a quickly-run race where Douvan is asked to do something new - might be enough to cause an upset, and using Each Way Edge to increase the paying places to first five still results in odds of 19/2.
I would usually leave this race alone, but quite why Irish Roe is 25/1 is beyond me. She has the fastest time in the book and is a course and distance winner. Sure, she is up against a plethora of talking horses - as always in this race - and may find a superstar or two that is too good, but plenty of her competitors will turn out to have little to say for themselves.
Use Each Way Edge to increase the places that pay to five you can still get odds of 16/1. That's ridiculously generous for a horse whose time in November would have seen her win this race last year.
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