It’s only appropriate that Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon AKA Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother is honoured on the second day of The Festival at Cheltenham. The Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race on Ladies Day. In 1980, the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase was renamed in the Queen Mother’s honour as she celebrated her 80th birthday. It is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over a distance of 3219 metres with runners facing 12 fences. The race was famously taken out, for the second time, but Sprinter Sacre in 2016. The third highest rated steeplechaser of the modern era, the French-bred, British trained 10yo returned from a series of health and injury problems to score a famous victory before he was retired.
Douvan a Deserved Top Pick
Douvan won the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy on the opening day of The Festival in 2016 and will start at a similarly prohibitive price in this year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase. He is unbeaten in 13 starts for Willie Mullins, including a pair of victories at The Festival after his debut win in the 2015 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Susannah Ricci-owned seven-year-old is the 2/7 ($1.28) favourite with race sponsor Betway. The only one rated a serious threat to Douvan is Fox Norton ($8 with Paddy Power). The seven-year-old made an eye-catching debut for Colin Tizzar when landing the Shloer Chase at Prestbury Park in November, but was then sidelined by injury for three months. He proved no match for Altior on his comeback run in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury, but connections are confident he will raise his game at the Festival.
Neon Wolf Set to Shine
Our best of the day comes up in the opening race of the day – the £125,000 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 5f). Neon Wolf (Harry Fry) will run here after connections decided to skip the Supreme on day 1 with conditions set to improve for day 2. Fry’s youngster has been hugely impressive on his three starts to date, completing his hat-trick with a stunning display in a Supreme Trial at a frigid Haydock in January. Trainer Enda Bolger and owner J P McManus have teamed up to win the £65,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (3m 6f) on five occasions and the trainer/owner combination has five contenders this year, including course winner Cantlow and Auvergnat, a winner over Punchestown’s banks course on February 5. Although he’s a 12yo, Cantlow has been lightly raced throughout his career and makes a sensible top pick at $3.75 with Coral.
Bumper Attracts Huge Field
Our best roughie for day 2 is in the last race on Ladies’ Day – the £75,000 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1 over 2m ½f), which the most prestigious flat race on the National Hunt calendar. Always a great race to watch for future reference, a big field of mostly unexposed horses from Britain and Ireland has revealed a handful of future stars in past editions, including the likes of Florida Pearl and Dunguib. A field of 28 ensures plenty of action and drama as the huge field battles for position. This race has been won a staggering eight times by Willie Mullins, and his best hope this year looks to be the ante-post favourite Carter McKay. But we like the look of another Mullins runner, Ballyward ($15). He was impressive when winning a 2m 4f bumper at Leopardstown over the festive period.
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