Dodging Bullets took the spoils in a thrilling Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon (Wednesday 11 March).
In the run up to the race past winners Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy had been the focus of attention. Both lined up for the 2015 race, but it was this season’s Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase winner that came home a length and a quarter in front for trainer Paul Nicholls.
Sire De Grugy finished fourth while Sprinter Sacre was pulled up by jockey Barry Geraghty.
Dodging Bullets, who was bred by Flat jockey Frankie Dettori, won under Sam Twiston-Davies in the feature race of day two of the Festival.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Sam. “This fellow jumps, stays and gallops which is the perfect combination for this race.”
Eleven-year-old Somersby, trained by Mick Channon, put in an excellent performance to finish second at 33-1, while Henry De Bromhead’s Special Tiara, who had made the running throughout, was in third.
It was a fifth win the two-mile chase for Paul.
“I know the other two were past champions but I couldn’t see why they were behind us in the betting, it must have been on sentiment,” said Paul.
“Dodging Bullets was the progressive young horse and it’s them that usually come out on top, he should have been favourite on form.
“The horse won’t run again this season and I expect we’ll be dreaming all summer. The whole aim will be to come here again in a year’s time. We might take in the Tingle Creek along the way.
“It’s great for the whole team and great to win the Champion Chase again — I really love this race. He is such a special horse to all the team that own him.”
Dodging Bullets was sold for just 8,000gns as a yearling when he was aimed at the Flat. He was then bought by Tom Malone to join Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard.
“Sam gave him a fantastic ride — he jumped like a stag and was gutsy all the way to the line,” said Frankie Dettori who was at Cheltenham cheering on the seven-year-old.
“He was bred to win the Derby but this is second best. It’s the equivalent of the 100m final at the Olympics and what a horse. You have to give credit to Dodging Bullets, he did all the work.
“I watched it with the owners and my legs were shaking a little bit walking down the steps, I was so excited. It’s completely different and unusual to have those feelings when I don’t have anything to do with it. I’m so pleased for Martin [Broughton, owner] and Paul.”
Sprinter Sacre fine after being pulled up
The nine-year-old “black aeroplane” was pulled up towards the end of the race.
The popular winner of the 2013 Champion Chase was having his second run after being out for more than a year following a heart condition.
Sprinter Sacre was pulled up in the 2013 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, and returned to the track in January at Ascot, where he was beaten by Dodging Bullets.
His return to Cheltenham today was hotly anticipated but it wasn’t the fairytale that fans wished it could have been.
However, trainer Nicky Henderson reported that the horse was “fine” and that he’d be “very surprised” if there was an issue with his heart still as it hadn’t been a problem the past year.
Sprinter Sacre will now be scoped and checked by vets.
“We’ll let the vets check him over and see what they say,” said jockey Barry Geraghty. “I knew at the first down the back so we’ll just have to wait and see. He seemed to still enjoy his racing.”
Ground too quick for Sire De Grugy
Last season’s winner Sire De Grugy was a popular win for the Moore family. Trained by Gary and ridden by his son Jamie, all eyes were once again on the nine-year-old gelding this year.
But the road to Cheltenham wasn’t easy for him either, picking up and injury along the way and falling at Newbury in February in a prep run.
Jockey Jamie Moore said the ground was too quick for their stable star today.
“I thought before the race the ground was ok but I do think it is quicker than last year. That was seen by the fact that the horses at the front end have been able to keep going on that bit longer because the ground was that bit quicker,” he said.
“He’ll run again this season. He’ll be alright. Look he has been beaten but it happens.”