Sunday 21 January 2018

Cheltenham 2015: Bullets fly as Fever misses his shot

Paul Nicholls, the trainer of Dodging Bullets celebrates winning the 15.20 Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase
Paul Nicholls, the trainer of Dodging Bullets celebrates winning the 15.20 Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase

Paul Nicholls yesterday won his fifth Queen Mother Champion Chase as Dodging Bullets gave him the middle leg of a Day Two treble but the seven-year-old still has some way to go to be considered one of the more esteemed winners of the race after beating outsiders Somersby and Special Tiara.

Punters made Sprinter Sacre their favourite at the off with Sire De Grugy second favourite and the well-documented issues that both horses had earlier in the season came back to light again with Sprinter Sacre pulling-up before the final fence and reigning champion Sire De Grugy only managing to finish fourth.

Yesterday morning saw Champagne Fever become a very significant non-runner from the race when trainer Willie Mullins opted against letting him take his chance after a transit issue and you couldn’t help but wonder if Dodging Bullets would have been able to contend with the dual Festival winner.

Champagne Fever had been ridden out at Cheltenham all week without the use of a bridle-bit due to cuts he had sustained in the horsebox on route to Cheltenham.

When they failed to clear up sufficiently, Mullins had to make the call to withdraw him, something that even Nicholls revealed was something of a relief.

Dodging Bullets.jpg
Sam Twiston Davies on Dodging Bullets celebrates after winning the 15.20 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

“I felt I had the measure of Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy on what they had done this season but Champagne Fever was the horse I had to worry about,” said the winning trainer.

In fairness to Dodging Bullets, he did go into yesterday’s feature with the best form having won both the Grade One Tingle Creek and Grade One Clarence House Chase and he duly obliged to win his third on top level race on the trot.

Nicholls confirmed that an attempt to continue his winning sequence will have to wait until next season.

“Dodging Bullets won’t run again this year. The big aim will be to try and defend his crown here next year. He needs to be fresh and I’ve been quite hard on him. I have learned that over the years, the worst thing you can do after winning one of these championship races is to run again and almost sort of ruin what they have done.

“He is a champion and we can dream about that all summer and then get him right to defend his crown next year. He definitely won’t run again.”

Gary Moore suggested that quicker ground could have been the downfall for Sire De Grugy while neither Nicky Henderson or Henry de Bromhead were making any quick decisions regarding the future of former Champion Chase winners Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe.

“Sizing Europe is fine, I saw him when he came in but it just wasn’t happening today. It’s probably just his old legs catching up with him,” de Bromhead said. “We won’t make any rash decisions yet.”

Henderson said: “No predictions can be made today about what his future will be.

“He has been a great horse and if it is wrong to go on I am sure we won’t do that.

“But if we can find a switch to get rid of whatever is wrong with him today, then who knows. There are still technically years in him.”

The concluding Champion Bumper threw up an incredible result with no Irish-trained horse in the first four, although the winner, Moon Racer, did win at

Fairyhouse for his then trainer Michael Ronayne.

Now trained by David Pipe, the six-year-old was actually left at the start after they failed to get away first time and the winning trainer admitted: “It didn’t go according to plan.”

“Hopefully this fella has got a bright future. He put up a good performance in October but he needed to up his game today he certainly has.

“There’s no reason why he can’t come back here next year as a novice hurdler. The form of this bumper is working out better and better each year and he’s got an engine.”

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