Day two of the Cheltenham festival is synonymous with the Queen Mother Champion Chase which last year went the way of Special Tiara at the fourth time of asking. He is sent to post again this year by Henry de Bromhead and is likely to try and blaze a trail from the front as was the case last term. However, the heavier ground would represent a negative for the 11-year-old who is yet to win from three starts in such underfoot conditions.
Altior, who reigned supreme in Arkle on the opening day of last year’s festival is the current favourite for this year’s Champion Chase. Much doubt had surrounded his involvement however after it emerged on Monday that he was found to be lame in his near foreleg. Thankfully, Henderson stated on Tuesday, that his stable star will be at the start when the white flag is raised at 1.30 on Wednesday.
It would have been a great shame if the 8-year-old had missed out on the back of what was a very impressive return at Newbury last month when brushing aside the challenge of Politologue with the least of fuss. The fact that he won by four lengths easing down after a racecourse absence of 287 days is testament to the class of the animal in question. It would represent a huge blow to Nick Henderson, who last won the race with Sprinter Sacre in 2016 – a victory which pulled at the heartstrings of the racing public.
Had Altior succumbed to injury, the favourites tag would have been placed on the back of the Willie Mullins-trained Douvan, who was considered the Irish banker of last year’s festival only to be turned over at odds of 2/9 – putting an end to a 13-race unbeaten record. The Rich Ricci-owned horse has not been seen on a racecourse since so were he to be crowned the Champion Chaser it would represent a mammoth achievement for connections who were willing to send him to the Cotswolds without a prep run. The 8-year-old, who has won on soft ground on six occasions and once in soft to heavy conditions is the selection of Cheltenham specialist, Ruby Walsh.
Walsh’s decision means that Paul Townend will take up the ride on Min, who was very impressive indeed at The Dublin Racing Festival in February. The ground should not be an issue for him given that he has won two of his three starts on heavy ground and both of his races on soft. He has won 80% of his chase starts to date and finished second to Altior in the Supreme Novices Hurlde two years ago.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue has enjoyed a fine season, winning four of his five starts and was far from disgraced last time out and Newbury and also emerged victorious in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December, a race that is often used as a trial for this race at the festival.