Champion Chase Preview
My favourite race of the week and Day 2’s Championship race is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, where we have a red-hot favourite. Amazingly, Willie Mullins have never won the Champion Chase, but he heads the betting with Chacun Pour Soi who has been electric so far this season. Last season’s Champion Chaser Politologue has more on his plate this year and must face his Ascot conqueror, First Flow. 2020 Arkle Heroine Put The Kettle On, is undefeated at the track and will no doubt relish the return to Prestbury Park. The story of the week could also feature should dual winner of the race and four-time Cheltenham Festival hero, Altior, power up the hill for a fairy-tale success. I love seeing the top two-mile chasers’ blitz around Cheltenham and have high hopes for this years renewal.
CHACUN POUR SOI
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Current Odds: 4/6
Undoubtedly, the standout two-mile chaser this season has been Chacun Pour Soi. Willie Mullins’ son of Policy Maker is a perfect three from three this season and his last two starts have been a jumping masterclass. The way this fella travels and jumps from around 4 out to the last is magical. On both occasions at Leopardstown he took lengths out of high-class rivals and over Christmas had the race won before the last. Last time out was a different story though. Stuck in-behind Notebook and Fakir D’oudairies turning for home, I thought Chacun may be in a spot of bother. Townend had heaps under him and waited for the gap to appear. The gap appeared alright, and the pair shot through and pinged the last in some style. In a matter of strides the race was put to bed and I was encouraged by the way he ran through the line, putting to bed my doubts about his finishing effort. He has visually been exceptional, and the time guys can’t fault him, so he rightfully comes into the race an odds-on shot. He does have one big question to answer with no previous course form to his name. Cheltenham is a unique track and often can find even the top horses out. He hasn’t shown anything that would suggest he won’t like Cheltenham, but it does represent a tiny concern.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Current Odds: 8/1
What an outstanding horse Altior has been for connections over the years. He is a legend of the game and if you ask me, doesn’t get the credit he deserves. To this day his Supreme win remains one of the best performances I have ever seen and despite being an 11-year-old now, you simply cannot write him off. We have little form to go off in the past two seasons with just the three runs to his name, largely due to that clash with Cyrname back in November 2019. Given a break off the back of that, I thought Altior showed the gears were still there with a typical late burst of speed in the 2020 Game Spirit, prior to last years festival. A small set back duly ruled him out of the Champion Chase and we didn’t see him until reappearing in the Desert Orchid at Kempton over Christmas. He never looked right from the off, jumping far too high at times and looking outpaced throughout. He plugged on for a game second but Nube Negra travelled all over him that day and despite not wanting to say it, Altior did look a tad slow. I do think Henderson is spot on when he talks about ground for Altior these days. Controversially withdrawn from the Tingle Creek due to testing conditions, I really do think if Altior is to stand any chance in this year’s Champion Chase, he needs good ground. The festival comes later in March so he may well get it. That being said, you would have to worry whether he still possess the raw speed to keep up with the likes of Chacun Pour Soi, coming down the hill and turning for home.
Trainer: Dan Skelton
Current Odds: 8/1
This year’s surprise package in the Champion Chase division has to be Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra. Held in high regard by connections, Nube Negra had a fine novice season over fences, jumping beautifully but maybe falling just shy of the very top. He did have age on his side though and returned in the Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas as a 20/1 shot. Watching the race, you would have assumed he was an odds-on shot! Nube Negra travelled and jumped like a dream! He looked the winner from miles out and duly quickened away to win in extremely impressive fashion. Can he reproduce that level at form at Cheltenham though? His course form reads 238 with the third coming in the Boodles back in 2018, where he came cruising into the straight and ultimately failed to get up the hill. Despite being an older horse now, I fear this may be a similar story. It is also worth noting that Shishkin, who ran on the same day, course, and distance as him in December, put 15 lengths on him from the back of the third last. Now Shishkin could be the next big thing, but would he have put 15 lengths on Chacun Pour Soi from the third last? To me eye, Altior was also coming back at him on the run in and with the return to Cheltenham likely to suit him I would not even be sure Nube Negra could uphold that form.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Current Odds: 9/1
Last year’s Champion Chaser, Politologue, finally got his day in sun, in what ultimately was an extremely disappointing Champion Chase. Take nothing away from Politologue, he was awesome on the day, but truth be told it didn’t feel like a Champion Chase. Reappearing in this season’s Tingle Creek, Politologue put in another jumping masterclass and ran out an impressive 7 length winner. Seemingly in the form of his life, Politologue was however beaten by First Flow in the Clarence House on his next start, where he had no response to First Flow’s bold front running display. Form wouldn’t back Politologue up either with Greaneteen, second to him in the Tingle Creek, well beaten behind Champ and Sceau Royal in the Game Spirit. Politologue has a lot more on his plate this year and truth be told I think he is an awful price at 9/1 and would actually be looking to place lay him.
PUT THE KETTLE ON
Trainer: Henry De Bromhead
Current Odds: 12/1
2020 Arkle Heroine Put The Kettle On, arguably loves Prestbury Park as much as I do, having ran three times at the track and won on all three occasions. Her Arkle win was a jumping masterclass and in a weird way, it was good to see her jump not quite so well on reappearance in the Shloer Chase, but still power up the hill for a narrow success. This proved her class, and she has since run a good race behind Chacun Pour Soi and stablemate Notebook to finish third at Christmas. She never looked comfortably that day and the track didn’t seem to suit her. Her Arkle form looks strong and the return to spring ground and Prestbury Park will play to her strengths. 8 of the past 25 Arkle winners have gone on to win the Champion Chase and numerous others have placed, so she certainly has the right profile. She has it all to do to turn around the form with Chacun Pour Soi but I think she may well prove best of the rest.
Last year’s Arkle runner up, Fakir D’oudaries would be an interesting runner, but I feel connections may opt for The Ryanair over the intermediate trip. Game Spirit winner and the ever-likeable Sceau Royal is certainly one for the place markets with previous form in the race to his name, but he will want the ground to be on the quick side. Regardless of ground, he does seem to fall short of the very top. Brilliant Clarence House winner, First Flow, may attract some support but he has to prove his effectiveness coming back left-handed and around an undulating course like Cheltenham. His form would suggest he also wants the ground to be bottomless, which at this stage is looking unlikely. Last years Arkle favourite, Notebook is potentially overlooked in the current market given his form with Put The Kettle On this season, but you’d have to wonder whether he has the same affiliation for Cheltenham with form figures of 06 around the track.
Crunching the Numbers
- 24 of the last 25 winners were priced 11/1 or lower with 18 of the last 25, 5/1 or lower
- 18 of the previous 25 winners had won around Cheltenham before and the last 12 winners had all run at Cheltenham before
- 16 of the last 25 winners won last time out
- The last 12 winners had won a Grade 1
- The last 20 winners all ran in field of 3 to 8 runners on their last start
Quite surprisingly none of the horses I looked at score 5/5 on the trends. Red hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi doesn’t have any Cheltenham form, whilst two-time champion, Altior, failed to win on his last start. Nube Negra only ticked three boxes having failed to win around Cheltenham and he is yet to win a Grade 1. Put The Kettle On and Poloitologue both scored 4 but neither won on their last start and First Flow comes into this with a string of 1’s against his name but missed out on the price and course form trend.
Everything is telling me to take on Chacun Pour Soi but on all known form he just seems a level above his opposition. His last start put to bed my concerns regarding his finishing effort, and I suspect he may be too far ahead for the likes of Altior to reel him back in. With First Flow, Politologue, Notebook and Put The Kettle On all set to line up, I can’t imagine they will be hanging around. This should really suit Chacun, who I anticipate sitting just in behind the pace before taking it up 3 from home. I really do fear for Altior in the early parts of this race and hope he has enough speed to stay in it and at least look a threat turning for home. By the time they do turn for home, I expect to see Chacun Pour Soi kicking clear but I do think both Altior and Put The Kettle On will be coming home strong. The mare currently sits at around 8/1 in the market without Chacun Pour Soi and I think that represents an excellent each way bet. Given Chacun Pour Soi wins, she has to finish in the first 4 and to be honest, I would be disappointed if she didn’t!
My Idea of the Winner
- Chacun Pour Soi 4/6
W/O Chacun Pour Soi
- Put The Kettle On 8/1
- Chacun Pour Soi
- Put The Kettle On
By Sam Rideout
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