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Alex Hammond backing Arvika Ligeonniere to prevail in Cheltenham's Champion Chase

Alex Hammond - Alex Hammond Posted 4th March 2014 view comments

Cheltenham fever is really grabbing hold now with just over a week until the greatest race meeting in the world (only a personal opinion!).

With the Sky Bet preview night coming up on Wednesday, I thought it was high time I had a look at some of the races to try and see where my hard earned was going to go.

For those of you not able to make it to Elland Road (why??) here are my views on what the Cheltenham Wednesday has to offer...

Wednesday, Mar 12

Neptune Novices' Hurdle - Where will Willie Mullins run Faugheen? He's shortest priced for this, but is also in the Albert Bartlett and the Supreme. I think we can rule out the latter as owner Rich Ricci has Vautour in that. The Albert Bartlett may stretch him as he can be keen. I think he'll run here where he'll be bidding to keep an unbeaten record. David Pipe's Red Sherlock is a smashing horse and despite the fact his tail goes round he has done little wrong. He still a big baby and as a son of the great Lady Cricket has plenty to live up to, but I really like him.

Arvika Ligeonniere is Alex's tip in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham

Arvika Ligeonniere is Alex's tip in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham

RSA Chase - I always find this race quite tough to master. However, WM ante-post favourite isn't a bad place to start. He has entered Ballycasey in a few races, but this seems his target. He stood in for Champagne Fever in the Dr PJ Moriarty at Leopardstown last time out and won beating Don Cossack. He's short enough here though. Of the home challenge, I quite like Donald McCain's Corrin Wood. McCain is having a fantastic season and his horses are in top form at just the right time.

Pat Fahy's Morning Assembly jumps well and I think he has an outstanding chance in this race.

Alex on the RSA Chase
Quotes of the week

He wouldn't want the ground to dry out too much though as he relishes plenty of cut, so that's one reservation. He is also in the NH Chase, but is fast improving and looks a lovely staying chaser. Pat Fahy's Morning Assembly jumps well and he is another to beat Don Cossack which he did on his penultimate start. His most recent outing saw him finish second to Carlingford Lough in the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase and I think he has an outstanding chance in this race, although he's also in the NH Chase.

Coral Cup - Dunguib is in this race and the County Hurdle (top weight in both) and he must have a chance wherever he runs. There has obviously been controversy surrounding his trainer Philip Fenton of late, but casting that aside, this former Champion Bumper winner looked like he oozed class when winning the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle on his last start and I'm looking forward to seeing him run back at Cheltenham. Until we know who runs where it's tough to go into too much depth. Trains tend to bat away queries into their running plans at the moment saying they don't know which race they are going for, so until they decide we have to sit and suffer.

Champion Chase - So, no Sprinter Sacre. Whilst that's a great shame, it's a much more interesting race from a betting point of view. Sire de Grugy has been making hay this season and it's been great to see the Moore family enjoy so much success with this talented chaser. The doubt about his love for Cheltenham remains and although Jamie Moore said after his recent racecourse gallop at Plumpton that he didn't think the track was going to be a problem, his defeat in the Shloer Chase remains fresh in the mind. He's top class, though, and deserves his position at the head of the market, albeit I think he's really short.

Arvika Ligeonniere would be shorter if this was run on a right-handed track. He has won a Grade 1 on a left-handed track but ran a shocker in the Arkle last year and that is a major concern. He is a classy individual though and I like him. Module is a smart horse and Tom George has never made a secret of how much he likes him. He beat Dodging Bullets in the Game Spirit at Newbury last time out and would run here if the ground were soft enough to make it more of a stamina test - he's also in the Ryanair. I would love to see Gary Moore have the winner here with Sire de Grugy, but I think Arvika Ligeonniere is better value where there are ifs and buts about most of the runners.

Cross Country Chase - Martin Keighley has an interesting runner in this race. He thinks his best chance of a winner at the meeting is with Any Currency. The horse has a decent record in these specialist races and whilst the unusual nature of the race isn't everyone's cup of tea, there are certain horses that can usually be relied upon to run a decent race and this is one of them. He ran well in the Classic Chase at Warwick on his last start on ground too testing for him, so he should enjoy being back over the cross country fences so long as the ground isn't too testing.

Fred Winter - At this stage we don't know who will line up in this race, and there is bound to be a well handicapped horse in amongst them. Dawalan heads the betting for Nicky Henderson after beating Carry On Sydney at Newbury and then running a good race when an unlucky loser in a jumpers' bumper last time out at Kempton. I'd be inclined to have Gitane du Berlais on my side if she runs. She also in the Triumph, but after her last win WM said he would bypass the festival as the ground is likely to be too quick for her and he would be most likely to send her back to her native France for a race. Keep an eye on the weather.

Champion Bumper - Argh!

Click here to read Alex's thoughts on the Tuesday at Cheltenham.

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