The JNWine Champion Chase is the first big race of the new jumps season. I preview and provide my tips for the race. With the first two from last years race, as well as the first two from the 2011 renewal, joined by one of last seasons top novices in Mount Benbulben, it looks a well up to par version of this 3 mile grade 1. The going at Down Royal today is officially good to yielding and its due to be dry overnight. The local weather forecast I checked suggest around 5mm of rain between 9 and 3 tomorrow afternoon. With the race due off at 2.30 it may effect the ground somewhat, but at this stage it would be unlikely to be much worse than today’s description.

Sizing Europe currently heads the market, and he has his chance. His best form over the years has been over 2 miles, but he always looked like he’d be at least as good over 2 1/2 miles, and just had more opportunity to run to a higher rating over 2 miles. He has run in this race twice before, in 2010 he came 2nd to Kauto Star, and the following year, Quito De La Roque nailed him late when his stamina ran out. You could make a case for saying Sizing Europe would have won that day if ridden less forcibly, but jumping is his biggest asset, and while holding him up would help him get the trip, it could be negated by not using his jumping to full effect.

Both those tries at 3 miles coincided with soft ground, and with the ground likely to ride better tomorrow he might finally get his chance to win over this trip. That’s the positive though, he is now rising 12 year’s old and while the better ground will be a plus, this race is better than when he was 2nd in 2011. It would also be a stretch to think Sizing Europe is still as good as he was then. His form last season was still very good, although I would think he was a few pounds below his very best, and while he made an impressive comeback at Gowran Park he didn’t beat anything like tomorrow’s rivals. I think overall he needs a good bit to go right for him to win this, and I made him a 4/1 shot, so he makes no appeal at 5/2.

First Lieutenant has numerous top class efforts on his CV over this trip. I’ve read a theory that he’s a better horse in the spring, but I wouldn’t agree, at least not to any noticeable amount. The spring generally coincides with him getting better ground, and if he is a few pound better I’d be confident its due to that, than him running faster because he’s looking forward to his summer holidays. I always thought decent ground was vital to him, but yet one of his career best effort came in last seasons Lexus Chase at Leopardstown when after getting the better of Flemenstar he got nailed late by Tidal Bay. That run showed he was more flexible than I thought, but he is still a little better on a better surface.

In his last 7 races First Lieutenant has run to a Racing Post rating of 165 or better on 6 of them. That’s a rating that Sizing Europe has beaten on 5 of his last 7 runs. The difference being Sizing Europe is now getting on, and running over a trip that he hasn’t run to within 5lb of his best over. 165 is a rating he would be doing well to run too. Not so for First Lieutenant. I wouldn’t worry at all about his below par comeback, he improved 20lbs on his comeback when 2nd in this race last season on soft ground, and with the ground likely to ride  better tomorrow, he should take his revenge on Kauto Stone. I thought 2/1 was about right for him on good to soft ground, if it ends up soft, I’d say 11/4, with 7/4 looking more appropriate on good ground.

While Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant are extremely consistent, Kauto Stone is not, and only one of his last seven runs would give him a chance here, and I don’t think the form of his win here last year will be good enough, unless we get a good bit of overnight rain. He has won on his first run back the last two years, both times at Down Royal, so there is a good chance he will show up on his A game. On good to soft, I think he’ll need a few of the others to be on their B game if he’s to win though. I thought about 8/1 seemed right, although I’d bring that in if it came up soft.

Mount Benbulben was a bit frustrating over fences last season, that is until he came good with a very impressive victory in the grade 1 staying novice at Punchestown. The problem up to then had been his jumping. Firstly on left handed tracks he jumped out to his right quite badly, and then when he went right handed at Fairyhouse he made a bad mistake 3 out. At Punchestown though everything went right and he showed what he could do. He meets much better horses tomorrow, but he clearly has the scope to improve enough. The problem might be if the ground is good to soft. His last 9 runs have been on soft or heavy ground, and the last time he raced on faster than that, he ran below his best at Cheltenham over hurdles. On good to soft, I thought 5/1 seemed about right, but if it came up soft, Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant would drift in my tissue, and Mount Benbulben would come in.

Roi De Mee is another consistent sort, but he’s never looked good enough for this type of race. This season he was making no impression when falling behind Sizing Europe at Gowran, before coming 2nd at Punchestown, with First Lieutenant 2l behind him. That form won’t be anywhere near god enough to win this though, and while First Lieutenant is very likely to progress hugely from that run, Roi De Mee probably ran close to his best that day. 16/1 looks about right to me.

Quito De La Roque won this in 2011, but only because the rest of the field cut each others throats and he came through to pick up the pieces, having looked well beaten 3 out. He was a bit disappointing since then until re finding his best form early this year. Even those best runs don’t look near good enough to beat a top form First Lieutenant, and his last two runs have been poor too. I made him a 16/1 shot.

Prince De Beauchene has been trained with the Aintree Grand National in mind for the last two seasons since he joined Willie Mullins from Howard Johnson. He seemed to improve for the switch, which is hardly surprising as I never thought much of Johnson as a trainer. The fact he missed both Nationals through injury looks to have forced a rethink this year, and they are probably trying to make hay while they can. His form wouldn’t be good enough to win this, but given that we likely haven’t seen him fully tuned up for Willie yet, improvement is certainly possible. I though 11/1 seemed right for him.

I’m not going to make any set tip at this stage as the ground is an important variable. My summary above should give a good idea what I think is a good bet when the ground becomes clearer tomorrow. At the moment the 16/1 Coral are going on Prince de Beauchene makes appeal and that is probably worth taking now, as he’ll be fine on any likely ground. If the ground is good to soft the 5/2 Paddy Power are currently going on First Lieutenant would be very fair if still available, while if we do get a good drop of rain the 6/1 BetVictor are going on Mount Benbulben would be quite tasty. If you want all my best tips every day, then check out my Premium Advisory Service which has had a very successful first month with 53 points profit.

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