Stuart Williams has an in-depth look at the Champion Chase. Including two tips tips at 8/1 and 25/1.
Champion Chase 2021
Champion Chase Tips
There aren't that many greater spectacle's in National Hunt Racing than a 2 mile championship chase, where top class turbo-chargers chasers go flat out from flag fall and hurdle their fences in the blink of an eye.
Last year promised much but arguably failed to deliver as a three-way battle royal between the defending champion Altior, upcoming pretender Chacun Pour Soi, and the form horse Defi Du Seuil failed to materialise. However, the first two named, who failed to make it to the start 12 months ago, will hopefully get their opportunity to face off in two weeks time.
This is a race that Nicky Henderson has dominated in recent years, boasting no fewer than five victories in the last nine years. Indeed, the master of Seven Barrows holds the record for the most victories in this contest alongside the legendary Tom Dreaper - trainer of Arkle and Flyingbolt - and eleven time champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls, whom counts the breathtaking success of Master Minded in 2008 amongst his six victories in the race.
Messrs Henderson and Nicholls have the opportunity to own that record outright as the master of Ditcheat will saddle reigning and indeed defending champion chaser Politologue, whom virtually made all when scoring by the best part of 10 lengths last March and will not go down without a fight.
However, let's start by assessing the prospects of red-hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi, whom is a perfect 3-3 this season and is seemingly performing at the peak of his powers.
Rich Ricci's top-class two-miler has only tasted defeat once since arriving from France and arguably posted a career best performance when landing a fourth Grade 1 success in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last month.
The french-bred nine-year-old possesses the ability to make lengths at his fences and often runs the sting out of his opposition courtesy of his high cruising speed through the middle stages of the race. This perhaps explains why he doesn't appear to finish off his races as strongly as some would like. However, while it may not be pleasing on the eye it is clearly effective, and why would Paul Townend change a formula that works.
The biggest question mark currently hanging over Chacun Pour Soi is whether he will handle the track given that this will be his first run in the Cotswolds following his eleventh hour withdrawal last year. It is perhaps worth noting that 11 of the last 12 winners of this race had run at the Cheltenham Festival before, and you have to go back to Master Minded's aforementioned success in 2008 to find the last winner whom had no previous Prestbury Park experience whatsoever.
This race hasn't always been the kind to short-priced favourites with three biting the dust in the last five renewals - namely Un De Sceaux at 4/6 in 2016, Douvan at 2/9 in 2017 and Defi Du Seuil at 2/5 last year. Willie Mullins certainly won't be taking anything for granted given that he saddled the first two in that sequence. However, those reverses can not be held against Chacun Pour Soi, who will bid to provide the Irish champion trainer with a maiden success in this contest.
The British charge will be led by the hat-trick seeking Altior, whom is 4-4 at the Cheltenham Festival and 5-5 in the Cotswolds.
Nicky Henderson's superstar isn't seen very often these days and his withdrawal from the Tingle Creek Chase in December sparked much conversation about how, righty or wrongly, horses are campaigned solely with the Cheltenham Festival in mind these days - something that the British champion trainer wasn't going to apologise for when quizzed about his decision.
Indeed, connections have become increasingly unwilling to leave anything to chance since Altior lost his unbeaten status at the hooves of Cyrname, and it's clear for all to see that the battle scars and war wounds gleaned from a career spent at the highest level are starting to take their toll on the previously untouchable eleven-year-old.
Those suspicions were undoubtedly reflected in his even money SP at Kempton and while a three-and-a-half-lengths defeat at the hands of an improving young horse whom is well suited by a flat track, goes well fresh, and whom received 6lbs is far from a bad run on first glance, it's worth nothing that Duc De Genievres, who has done very little since winning a weak Arkle Challenge Trophy in 2019, was only four-and-a-half lengths back in third.
It was also worth noting how deflated both Nicky Henderson and Nico De Boinville were post race, with both suggesting that Altior had lost a yard of pace. That suggests to me that they were expecting much more and felt that he was pretty straight for his seasonal reappearance, which is understandable given that he was due to run at Sandown three weeks earlier.
Having to bypass his intended prep run in the Game Spirit Chase is also far from ideal, albeit he has been for a recent racecourse gallop and is trained by a man whom has proven time-and-time-again his ability to deliver a horse to Cheltenham in tip-top form.
It was recently revealed that Altior will sport first-time cheekpieces in the Champion Chase in a bid sharpen him up and indeed combat his somewhat customary flat spot that may leave him more vulnerable these days.
Nicky Henderson confirmed that they have seemingly done the trick when applied at home, and Altior could easily give Chacun Pour Soi something to think about if they have the desired effect on the track.
Next we must touch open Altior's Kempton conquerer Nube Negra, whom travelled powerfully throughout the Desert Orchid Chase and readily scooted clear when Harry Skelton gave the signal to do so.
It was a performance that simply oozed class and more than announced the seven-year-old's arrival in this division, and it's definitely worth noting that Harry Skelton ended his association with Politologue, whom he steered to success in both last year's Champion Chase and this season's Tingle Creek Chase, so that he was free to ride Nube Negra in this contest.
Obviously family ties were also a factor in that decision and he may also feel that Nube Negra is the up-and-coming horse in this division. However, it's still some statement to get off the horse whom has provided you with two of your biggest career victories to date - especially for a mount whom has yet to make his presence felt at the highest level.
Being fresh is most certainly advantageous given that Nube Negra boasts form-figures of 318B121 following a break of 63 days or more, and the likely decent ground wound also be in his favour. While those whom like stats may be interested to know that 6 winners from the 13 previous renewals of Kempton's Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase have gone on to land this prestigious prize that same season.
There is still a slight question mark over his ability to come up the hill given his tame finishing effort in the 2018 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle after travelling menacingly into contention. However, it goes without saying that plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then and Nube Negra undoubtedly arrives here as a much more complete performer.
Indeed, it's easy to see why many rate his chances in this contest, and the current red-hot form of the Skelton yard offers further reason for optimism.
As previously alluded to last year's Champion Chase fell apart with Altior and Chacun Pour Soi notable absentees and Defi Du Seuil failing to fire on the day. However, let that take nothing away from John Hales' tough-as-teak grey Politologue, whom jumped for fun and slipped his rivals to earn a much deserved Cheltenham Festival success.
Politologue looked every bit as good on his seasonal reappearance in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and, like at Cheltenham last March, Paul Nicholls was quick to attribute his success to the various changes that were made to his training regime last season and the significant gap between races - there in lies the issue.
Given how vocal the eleven time champion trainer had been about the grey being a significantly better horse when extremely fresh, I was somewhat surprised when connections elected to run him in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January rather than mirror his preparation for this contest 12 months ago.
That gamble clearly didn't pay off as First Flow spoiled the Nicholls party, and I can't help but wonder if Politologue left his champion Chase prospects at Ascot that day. However, only time will tell.
Arkle winners have a fine record of running well in the following year's Champion Chase and connections of Put The Kettle On clearly feel that it is worth chancing their arm at championship level as opposed to competing in the inaugural running of the Grade 2 Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase, for which she would have been a significantly shorter price.
It's not hard to see why connections have come that conclusion when you factor in that last year's Arkle heroine is 3-3 over this course and distance and will receive a handy 7lbs mares allowance, something that top class mares Annie Power and Epatante took full advantage of in the Champion Hurdle in 2016 and 2020 respectively.
The likely decent ground would not be an issue in itself, although it will likely contribute to a very strong pace which could put Put The Kettle On under significant pressure given that she has shaped as though she would be ideally suited by further on both of her starts this winter - firstly when staying in stoutly to collar Duc Des Genievres in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November, and latterly when placing third behind Chacun Pour Soi at Christmas.
However, she could easily stay on well if her jumping stands up to the test, and could therefore make some appeal from an each-way perspective, especially as Henry de Bromhead, whom has saddled two winners - namely Sizing Europe and Special Tiara - and four placed horses in this race over the last decade.
Kim Bailey has enjoyed a fantastic season to date and the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase success of First Flow is undoubtedly the cherry on the top. However, that would naturally be demoted to second spot if the keen-going nine-year-old can crash the party once more.
The intriguing son of Primary has won his last six starts and is clearly progressing at a rate of knots. However, it does seem significant that connections have kept him away from decent ground since his second start in a bumper in October 2017, and David Bass once commented that he makes soft ground feel like good ground, which obviously suggests that he needs plenty of cut in order to be seen to best effect.
It is also worth noting that his most impressive performances to date have come on right-handed tracks and he was pulled-up on his only previous visit to Cheltenham in the 2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, when hanging badly to his right for much of the contest.
Naturally First Flow has matured and strengthened since then and it may not be an issue this time. However, there are clearly sufficient doubts and I would certainly want to take him on unless the storm clouds descend on Prestbury Park.
Sceau Royal is enjoying a hugely productive season and looked as good as ever when landing the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last month, therefore he should be underestimated in this contest - especially if the ground does turn up decent.
Alan King's terrier like nine-year-old boasts form-figures of 2135 over this course and distance with the latter placing being achieved on unsuitably soft ground. It's fair to say that he gave a prime Altior a scare when jumping to the front over the final fence in the 2019 Champion Chase, and he will head to Festival on a high following his comfortable success over the Cheltenham Gold Cup bound Champ.
Although Sceau Royal seems to have been around forever he is still only 9, and 7 of the last 11 winners of this contest were aged 9 or older (5 aged 9 and 2 aged 10). Therefore his age is of no concern and he is clearly in a very good place this season. Therefore rule him out at your peril.
Fakir D'Oudaries and Rouge Vif placed second and third respectively in the Arkle last year and could easily run well of granted suitable conditions.
The former, whom would prefer soft ground, pulled 18 lengths clear of the latter on that occasion and also ran well when placing fourth in the 2019 Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Connections elected to drop all the way back two-miles-and-one-furlong at the Dublin Racing Festival after pulling-up in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, and the smart son of Kapgarde ran a race full of promise when finding only Chacun Pour Soi too good.
That was perhaps an effort that smacked of Ryanair Chase rather than Champion Chase and Thursday's two-and-a-half mile Grade 1 remains an option the JP McManus owned six-year-old.
The latter, whom would need decent ground in order to be seen to best effect, demonstrated that he is more than a mere handicapper when bolting-up off a mark of 156 over this course and distance in October, and he holds a decisive 7 lengths verdict over the aforementioned Nube Negra in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick 13 months ago.
That form was emphatically reversed on soft ground at Kempton over Christmas and Rouge Vif was no match for reigning champion chaser Politologue in the Tingle Creek Chase in December. However, he is a totally different proposition when granted decent ground and could easily outperform market expectations if the rain stays away.
Both Joseph O'Brien and Harry Whittington endured frustrating winter campaigns but have mercifully returned to form in recent weeks, which certainly bodes well for their runners at Cheltenham.
The keen-going Greaneteen placed second in the Tingle Creek Chase but proved no match for Sceau Royal and Champ in the Game Spirt Chase at Newbury. While Notebook, whom was sent off a 5/2 favourite for the Arkle last year, may be better suited by having no crowds at Cheltenham given his questionable temperament. However, he was soundly beaten by Chacun Pour Soi at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and Cheltenham may not play to his strengths.
Cilaos Emery is also worth a mention given that he finished fifth in the 2017 Supreme Novices' Hurdle and fourth behind Epatante in last year's Champion Hurdle.
Willie Mullins' talented nine-year-old looked as good as ever when giving the 157 rated Daly Tiger 9lbs and an 11 lengths beating in the Grade 3 WhatOddsPaddy? Chase at Naas in February, and he will again arrive at Cheltenham on the back of a light campaign, which could easily see him run well once more.
Champion Chase Prediction
It was impossible not be hugely impressed by Chacun Pour Soi's emphatic success at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and he could prove very tough to beat if handling the track. His ability to make lengths at his fences and indeed his high cruising speed will pile pressure on his opposition in this contest. However, he could prove vulnerable in the finish if Paul Townend doesn't get the fractions spot-on, and I would therefore be inclined to take him on at the price.
The favourites high cruising speed could set things up perfectly for Altior if the cheekpieces have the desired effect, as we are well aware that the dual champion does all of his best work at the finish. A truly run race would bring his stamina into play and he could easily bounce back if able to keep tabs on the likely protagonists throughout the race - for all that he may not be the force of old.
This race is much deeper than the contest in which Politologue triumphed last year and the fact that he ran in January is a negative in my opinion. Whilst First Flow is better suited to right-handed tracks and may struggle to show his true ability unless a deluge of rain suddenly materialises. However, it would be no surprise to see a bold showing from last year's Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On, whom is 3-3 over this course and distance and will be coming home well up the hill.
Rouge Vif would certainly make each-way appeal if the ground is decent given the he defeated NUBE NEGRA in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase last season's and bolted-up off a mark of 156 over this course and distance in October. However, Dan Skelton's charge has had the perfect preparation having been given plenty of time to recover from his impressive defeat of Altior at Kempton, and he looks to possess the requisite speed and scope to keep tabs on Chacun Pour Soi in the middle stages of this contest.
Six previous Desert Orchid Chase winners have gone-on to land this prestigious Grade 1 prize in the last 13 years and it's hard to ignore that fact that Harry Skelton got off the reigning champion chaser in order to ride Nube Negra in this race - for all that family ties would have also been a factor.
Nube Negra boasts form-figures of 18B121 following a break of 63 days or more (including his racecourse debut) and he naturally remains open to improvement after just five starts over fences. His success as Kempton could hardly have been more authoritative and Dan Skelton recently went to the expense of purchasing his sire Dink, presumably in the hope of producing more champion chase contenders in the future!
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