Andy has previewed next year's Champion Chase, including 20/1 and 50/1 shots to invest in
When taking a quick look at the ante-post markets for the Champion Chase in the aftermath of the Cheltenham Festival, the first thing to notice is how wide-open and confused the landscape appears now the dust has settled.
The reason for the general uncertainty can be attributed to the events which unfolded that week, namely the anti-climactic nature of this year’s renewal and the shock result in the Arkle Chase on the previous afternoon.
Both of these events usually have a massive bearing on how the bookmakers chalk up this contest for the following season, but because each race ended up being extremely inconclusive for a variety of reasons, most punters were left scratching their heads and not sure which way to turn.
I will endeavour to unravel some of the ensuing mess left by these races and try to make some sort of sense of the picture for the new campaign, beginning with the Champion Chase itself.
Heading into the Festival, the headline Grade 1 on day two was quite-rightly billed as the race of the week, with the top three in the betting; Defi Du Seuil, Altior and Chacun Pour Soi all displaying the level of form on their previous starts to suggest they were A1 in the build-up to the event.
However, Altior became the first casualty just a few days before the gig with a troublesome splint problem and then to just put the final nail in the coffin for an expectant crowd on the day, Chacun Pour Soi had to be withdrawn on the morning of the race due to a foot abscess.
In their absence, it meant Defi Du Seuil was sent to post as the warmest favourite of the week at 2-5 and, in a race that looked his for the taking, surely a repeat of any of his three victories earlier in the season would suffice?
However, racing being the glorious uncertainty that it is, the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding proceeded to completely fluff his lines in trailing home a well-beaten fourth of the five runners.
Quite why he ran so badly remains a bit of a mystery although there is some traction to the theory that the very sticky ground was the contributory factor to why he failed to travel with any of his usual zest from the word go.
Either way, the poor run came as a real bolt out of the blue for connections and punters alike considering what had gone before and it is probably best to put the performance down to just a bad day at the office. With that in mind, the 14-1 on offer with Paddy Power looks on the generous side based on his overall profile, especially when you have to remember he is still only seven and is unlikely to race on ground so unsuitable at the Festival in future.
As it turned out, Politologue proved good enough to take advantage of the out-of-character effort by the favourite and it was probably no more than he deserved after playing the bridesmaid role in the past. Finding a lovely rhythm early on, Paul Nicholls’ grey kept his foot hard down on the throttle throughout and, once it was clear that Defi Du Seuil was in trouble, it was just a question of him maintaining the gallop all the way to the line, a requirement he managed without too much difficulty.
Without wishing to knock him too harshly, his winning performance does whiff of similar victories recorded by Newmill and Special Tiara in the past, in the sense that the main players in their respective years all underachieved, and when you also add into the fact the time figure was extremely poor for a Grade 1 two-mile championship event, it adds weight to the theory he was a below-par winner.
Unlikely to ever enjoy that perfect storm again, the son of Poliglote is currently is rather a dismissive-looking 20-1 chance as a result.
Of the two that failed to make the gig, Altior has the biggest struggle to make it back to the top table as his frailties are clearly becoming a major issue with age. An 11yo next season, Moscow Flyer has been the only horse of that age group to land the Champion Chase in the last 40 years, so it’s clear that Nicky Henderson’s great champion has quite a few mountains to overcome if he is to regain his crown.
The other absentee, Chacun Pour Soi, is a different kettle of fish altogether being two years’ younger and it’s not as if he has got that many miles on the clock either. Having just had four chase starts in the last two seasons, two of which have resulted in victories at Grade 1 level, Willie Mullins’ gelding still remains open to plenty of improvement, it’s just a question of whether those at his Closutton base can keep the wheels on him for the foreseeable future.
On pure ability alone, his top price of 6-1 would seem fairly tempting, but based on his injury-prone profile, he’s probably one worth avoiding until he can prove himself again back on the track.
As it’s highly unlikely anything else from the established members of this division are all of a sudden going to make great strides forward next season, it’s time to take a look at the new crop coming through from the novice ranks.
Other than Duc Des Genievres in 2019, 16 of the previous 18 winners of the Arkle have gone on to finish in the first three in the follow year’s Champion Chase, so it certainly pays to focus heavily on the events that took place in race two of the Festival.
As the betting for this season’s renewal suggested, it looked a wide-open affair beforehand, but with many of the main players blowing out completely, it paved the way for a shock winner in the shape of PUT THE KETTLE ON (best price 20-1). Despite proving herself over the C&D with a game victory over Al Dancer back in November, Henry De Bromhead’s mare was allowed to go off as a 16-1 outsider on her return visit, but after jumping and travelling well throughout, she proved her position in the market all wrong with another tenacious display.
Picking up the running after three out, the daughter of Stowaway maintained a strong gallop all the way to the line and even though she may have got a little lucky when her main threat Fakir D’Oudairies clouted two out, the way she battled on once joined by her chief pursuer half-way up the run-in suggested she may have won anyway.
Considering the strength-in-depth of this year’s Arkle – don’t forget there were three previous Grade 1 winner in the field – it would be unwise to underestimate her achievements just because she was a wild outsider, and given the fact she’s now 2-2 at the track, and trained by one of the best exponents of two-mile chasers both old and new, the lightly-raced six-year-old has more ticks in boxes than her current quotes indicate.
On to the runner-up, Fakir Doudairies, and although it’s probably an over exaggeration to say he was massively unlucky, at the same time the mistake he made two out clearly didn’t do him any favours. The mere fact that he still managed to finish well clear of the rest (18 lengths) and reversed December’s Leopardstown form with Notebook despite being 7lb worse off suggested he probably ran close to a career high and being only five, he looks to have a bright future. Despite on the few occasions over the minimum trip he’s looked like he might be seen in a better light over further, the time when he did attempt 2m4f in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse, it appeared at the time of Samcro’s demise two out that he might have been fighting a losing battle. Additionally, time might tell that the two-mile category ends up being the weaker division next season as the likes of top-class novices Samcro, Melon, Faugheen, Simply The Betts, Imperial Aura and possibly Allaho (yet to prove he stays three miles at championship level) bolster the 2m4f ranks alongside the older, established gang of Min, A Plus Tard and Saint Calvados. Either way, for a horse of his undoubted class and proven record in Grade 1’s, quotes of 25-1 for the Champion Chase and 33-1 for the Ryanair appear too big, and it will be interesting to see what path he ends up treading come the turn of the year.
Aside of the top-quality novices like Fakir D’Oudairies and Samcro who all appear likely to stay over 2m4f and beyond, one that could be interesting for two-mile honours if connections decide to take a U-turn regards trip is MISTER FISHER (best price 50-1)
A very creditable fourth in the Marsh Chase at the Festival when a couple of niggly errors cost him vital track position, he stayed on well enough on the run-in to suggest 2m4f is probably his ideal trip.
However, he still may have not been good enough to overhaul the three ahead of him that day who were trapping along at a tempo that superseded Min and co in The Ryanair Chase (25 lengths quicker on the final circuit), so connections might decide to cut their losses and stay clear of a category that seems to have an abundance of talent in its midst fighting for top honours.
Moreover, it is not as if Nicky Henderson’s gelding is short of pace either as he proved when he outpaced the smart Al Dancer at Doncaster in the Grade 2 Lightening Novices’ Chase pre-Cheltenham and it is also worth pointing out the son of Jeremy was for a long time considered as more of a candidate for The Arkle.
Looking towards next season, something like the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham’s November meeting could well turn out to be an ideal starting point (same stable won it with Kid Cassidy and Sprinter Sacre) for him and, at 50-1, he may just be worth a small roll of the dice.
The Champion Chase market has a completely different dimension to it from last year with many of the younger novices threatening to take over.
Of those, PUT THE KETTLE ON has to be high on the shortlist given her level of improvement in the last 12 months and, as we know, the record of Arkle Chase winners going forward is fairly positive. She rates a decent investment at her current odds of 20-1.
Fakir D’Oudairies would be the automatic choice to add to the portfolio at 25-1 could we be certain connections kept him at the minimum trip but, as they are likely to send him over further, MISTER FISHER takes his place as the other one worth siding with at a whopping 50-1.