Cheltenham - At The Races

15:30 Cheltenham 14 Mar 2018

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) (Class 1) (5YO plus)

Winner £227,800 - 9 ran

4

1m 7f 199y

Soft (Heavy in places)

View Course Guide

Weighed In

Andy Gibson
by Andy Gibson

The complexion of the 2018 Champion Chase market changed dramatically from the moment Altior showed he will very likely be ready to perform to his best at the Cheltenham Festival after putting up an ultimately impressive looking seasonal debut display at Newbury.

Perhaps, if Douvan turned up at the top of his game he could be offered up as a real threat to the Nicky Henderson chaser. That unlikely scenario aside, the way seems clear for Altior to claim the 2018 Champion Chase crown. I do not believe he is quite as obvious a winner as either Buveur D’Air or Apple’s Jade as he should face at least one viable opponent in the shape of Min; on balance, however, as with the Champion Hurdle, it is the ‘without the Nicky Henderson favourite’ market that makes most appeal.

Horse profiles

Altior (IRE)

  • 8-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: High Chaparral - Monte Solaro (Key Of Luck)
  • Trained by: N J Henderson
  • Last Race: Sandown, 28 Apr 2018 15:00
  • Result: Won/6, tracked leading pair, left tracking leader 8th, challenged on inside and led soon after 3 out, went left next, ridden between last 2, stayed on strongly to assert towards finish
  • View full form

He made a belated seasonal reappearance in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in early February. This was as close to perfect as one could have expected on this prep run for March. The runner-up Politologue was a sitting duck as he tends to idle in front and was setting the pace under sufferance rather than by preference. That aside Altior was brilliant and looked very special once again in the closing stages.

He has now beaten his three closest rivals in the Champion Chase market with something to spare. He put Min in his place with consummate ease in the 2016 Supreme Novices' Hurdle and finished 13 lengths clear of Fox Norton (now a non-runner) in the 2017 Game Spirit Chase. He completed the hat trick with that recent four length success over Politologue.

I suppose that if Altior performs to the ‘workmanlike’ level he showed in the 2017 Arkle Trophy Chase then one could argue that the Champion Chase will be a wide-open affair between four or five closely matched contenders. On the other hand, if Altior is able to reproduce the level of form he has displayed in each of his other six chases to date then the 'without the favourite' market would appear to be the place to focus on for the Champion Chase.

Douvan (FR)

  • 8-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Walk In The Park - Star Face (Saint Des Saints)
  • Trained by: W P Mullins
  • Last Race: Punchestown, 24 Apr 2018 17:30
  • Result: 2/9, tracked leader in 2nd, jumped slightly right 4 out, slight mistake next, ridden in 2nd entering straight, no impression on winner before last, kept on same pace run-in
  • View full form

Apparently he returned lame after finishing well beaten in the 2017 Champion Chase; given his previous record, I think it is safe to draw a line through that performance. Nonetheless, the fact that we have not seen him on a racecourse since that day has to be a significant minus against his name if indeed he is deemed fit and well enough to line up for the 2018 renewal.

He won the 2016 Arkle Trophy Chase with consummate ease by seven lengths from the 2017 Gold Cup winner Sizing John. My post-race notes read as follows:

"15th March 2016 - Cheltenham - He was never really asked a question and is simply much better than the other two-mile novice chasers. He is probably much better than the 2016 Champion Chase field and is already a worthy favourite for the 2017 renewal of that contest. The betting without the favourite will tend to be the only place to look when he is in the line-up for any race."

It would be a real shame were he to miss the festival as on the best of his earlier form he would be the most likely in this field to give Altior a real race. That said it would be a really big ask to expect him to run close to his best in a championship chase on the back of a 364 days lay-off. At this point in time the percentage call has to be for him not to line-up on the day or, if he does, for him not to match the quality of his previous best form.

Video Form
24 Apr 2018:
5 Feb 2017:
27 Dec 2016:
11 Dec 2016:
28 Apr 2016:

Min (FR)

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Walk In The Park - Phemyka (Saint Estephe)
  • Trained by: W P Mullins
  • Last Race: Punchestown, 24 Apr 2018 17:30
  • Result: 4/9, tracked leaders, slight mistake 1st, 4th 3 out, soon ridden, moderate 3rd entering straight, soon no impression in 4th
  • View full form

I don't think the pounds and lengths of his recent Leopardstown success add up to as much as it may appear on paper. The 149-rated Ordinary World was all set to finish a ten-length second when getting the last fence wrong. Special Tiara was really buzzy out in front and went off too fast, whilst Simply Ned would be beaten by a similar margin by three or four British contenders. That said, Min travelled really well and jumped most of his fences with aplomb. When comparing this race with the Frank Ward Arkle Chase, Min posted a very similar time as Footpad from the first fence to the line.

Min had no answer to Altior’s finishing burst in the 2016 Supreme Novices' Hurdle and will do well to reverse that form given the extent of his beating on that day. At the same time, if Min can finish seven lengths behind Altior in the Champion Chase he will surely finish in the first three places.

He holds a reasonably strong chance of being very competitive in the Champion Chase and, at the same time, an in form Altior would very possibly be too good for him. Like many of the top horses from the Willie Mullins yard Min is simply trading shorter than he should for the festival. He is as short as 9/4 with many firms which probably overestimates the chances of him finishing ahead of a very talented favourite.

Video Form
24 Apr 2018:
3 Feb 2018:
27 Dec 2017:
25 Nov 2017:
26 Dec 2016:

Politologue (FR)

  • 7-y-o; grey gelding
  • Breeding: Poliglote - Scarlet Row (Turgeon)
  • Trained by: P F Nicholls
  • Last Race: Aintree, 13 Apr 2018 15:25
  • Result: Won/6, tracked leader from 2nd, not fluent 10th or 12th, challenged 3 out, soon led, ridden and headed narrowly just before last, led again flat, held on gamely
  • View full form

He was firmly put in his place in the closing stages of the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February. As a consequence he was lengthened to 10/1 in the main market having been around the 4/1 mark before Newbury. The betting ‘without the favourite’ market tends to react pro-rata; at least initially. Consequently, Politologue can now be supported at 5/1 in that market which is obviously a bigger price than the one he was trading overall prior to Newbury.

I think he can do better than he did at Newbury when ridden off a fast pace rather than having to make his own running. I think there has always been a suspicion that he might not be as quick as one or two of his potential Champion Chase rivals; that said he should still finish in the four and his chances will improve given the likely fast pace.

In his previous chase at Kempton in late December I thought he was going slightly less well than Special Tiara when that one came down at the eighth fence. I would not mark Politologue down on that score as one would arguably expect Henry de Bromhead’s chaser to be travelling better than most at that point of any race. He ultimately came through and won with plenty to spare in the Desert Orchid Chase; albeit against very little opposition once his main market rival was out of the contest. He did appear to be quite tired on the run in at Kempton; however, he may have just been dossing in front which he has a habit of doing. I also doubt that he was at his peak for Kempton having been trained for the Tingle Creek earlier on in December.

In that Sandown chase he travelled like the best horse for most of the race which is very encouraging for his Champion Chase claims; moreover, he handled those fences especially well. He took up the running well before the final fence and never looked like relinquishing that lead despite the favourite Fox Norton closing him down near the line. A literal translation of this form through the Tizzard chaser would imply that Politologue would have finished next to Special Tiara in the 2017 Champion Chase. Of course we can never take collateral form too literally as all races are unique when taking on board the multitude of variables at work in any given contest; at the same time, the comparison does, at least, add substance to the notion that Politologue is in the right ‘ball park’ to finish in the mix in the Champion Chase.

Special Tiara

  • 11-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Kayf Tara - Special Choice (Bob Back)
  • Trained by: H de Bromhead
  • Last Race: Sandown, 28 Apr 2018 15:00
  • Result: 4/6, kept wide, tracked leader, went left 3rd, jumped slowly 5th, left in front 8th, joined 3 out, soon headed, slightly hampered and lost 2nd 2 out, weakened approaching last
  • View full form

He finished twelve and a half lengths behind Min on his prep run in the Coral Dublin Chase which was run on a soft surface at Leopardstown in early February. He was very exuberant out in front and will hopefully be more tractable in March on the strength of this performance.

I would not be too concerned with the pounds and lengths when comparing Special Tiara’s performances when competing on very different surfaces. After all, he finished 18 lengths behind Fox Norton on soft ground in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November 2016 and managed to turn that form around on a faster surface over the same course and distance four months later. He is clearly a much better horse on decent ground and will hopefully show this when defending his Champion Chase crown.

Special Tiara has finished in the first three places in each of the last three renewals of the Champion Chase and has a perfectly sound chance of doing so again in 2018. His course and distance form at the festival offers plenty of substance to the notion that there might not be a lot between him and Min on the second day of the festival; assuming the going is no softer than good to soft.

Video Form
3 Feb 2018:
26 Apr 2016:
8 Nov 2015:

REST OF THE FIELD

At the time of writing Yorkhill is trading at 60.0 for this Grade 1 contest which strongly implies he will not line-up on the second day of the festival. Willie Mullins has just gone on record as suggesting that if Yorkhill makes it to the festival it will probably be the Champion Hurdle for him.

God’s Own would have finished close up in the 2017 Champion Chase but for mistakes at the fourth last and then again two out. It is possible it cost him the race; he has never been the fastest horse over the minimum trip, however, and I would tend to think it cost him third place from his stable mate Sir Valentino. He has a chance of finishing in the first four or five here and could be of some interest in the ‘without Altior’ market if he was a big enough price nearer the time.

If Charbel can reproduce the quality of his 2017 Arkle Trophy Chase performance (without the late fall) then one could argue that he has as much chance as any of following Altior home. He gave the Henderson horse a real fright that day and was still in with every chance when coming down at the second last flight. He enjoyed a relatively easy lead on that occasion which will not be the case here with Special Tiara in the field. Furthermore, he was not able to keep tabs on Ar Mad or Politologue the last time we saw him in the Tingle Creek Chase in early December. At the same time his overall performance at Sandown would suggest he has some sort of a chance of finishing fairly close to the Nicholls horse.

Great Field is another whose price on the exchanges strongly suggests he will not compete in the Champion Chase. He is as short as 8/1 with one firm in the betting and yet as big as 70.0 on the exchanges.

Finally, the Henry de Bromhead-trained Ordinary World has a habit of running well without winning. He appeared all set to finish a ten length runner up to Min last time out when falling at the last fence at Leopardstown. In the 2017 Arkle Trophy Chase he finished 15 lengths behind, a possibly below par, Altior. A reproduction of either of those two performances could be good enough to see him sneak into the prize money.

CONCLUSIONS

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

When Altior won the Game Spirit Chase it was an equal blow to each of his rivals in the Champion Chase market. When a horse finishes beaten by one with a particularly sexy profile like Altior it can result in the beaten horse becoming more forgotten about than his profile merits in the overall market for the re-match.

Min, Fox Norton, Charbel and the reigning champion Special Tiara have all been firmly put in their place by Altior in the recent past. I thought it was interesting that Politologue went from 4/1 to 10/1 after the Game Spirit and yet, at the same time, the others mentioned hardly moved at all. This is despite the fact that all of their Champion Chase claims were reduced equally once Altior announced his wellbeing. One could even argue that the Nicholls horse took less of a beating from Altior in comparison to all of the above with the exception, perhaps, of Charbel.

This same phenomenon has occurred before on more than one occasion. Leading up to the 2016 Arkle Chase Sizing John had finished several lengths behind Douvan on four separate occasions prior to March 2016. One can completely understand, therefore, why Sizing John was trading at a very big price in the main market as a result of having offered four pieces of direct evidence which all clearly stated that he could not beat the hot favourite Douvan. The significance of this elevated price is that the horse in question will then often, at least initially, trade at a pro-rata price in the market ‘without the favourite’. This potential outcome is always worth close inspection; after all a reproduction of any of those four beatings would result in Sizing John finishing in the first four in the Arkle just as certainly as they support the notion that he will not beat the favourite. Therefore, we can say that the peripheral market is not necessarily responding in the right direction due to the weight and authority held in the main win market.

A similar occurrence happened in 2017 between Altior and Charbel prior to the Arkle Chase. Altior had beaten the Kim Bailey horse by around a dozen lengths in the 2016 Supreme Hurdle and then again by six lengths in the December in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown. As a consequence in the 2017 Arkle Chase betting Charbel was available at 33/1 for a long time in the main market and opened up at a double figure price in the betting ‘without Altior’.

A similar scenario has developed between Altior and Politologue since the Game Spirit Chase. As a consequence of POLITOLOGUE drifting out to 10/1 in the main market he is now available at 5/1 in the market ‘without the favourite’ despite the fact that a reproduction of his recent performance against the Nicky Henderson chaser would be good enough to see him finish in the first three or four places at worst in the 2018 Champion Chase. I have had a small interest at 10/1 in the main betting and a more significant each-way bet at 5/1 in the peripheral market.

SPECIAL TIARA is available at 6/1 in the betting without the favourite. I have played him and Politologue at 5/1 as a duo in a few each-way multiple bets. Min is the favourite in that market and will be a real threat. After him we have Douvan who is far from certain to line-up, Un De Sceaux who goes for the Ryanair Chase, followed by Politologue and Special Tiara. Consequently, it will be a big surprise if one of my pair does not finish in the first four in the Champion Chase (assuming Altior finishes in the three).

Previous Winners
Year Going Ran Winner Draw Age Weight OR Form Last run Trainer (Distance) Jockey SP Time
2017 Good to Soft 10 Special Tiara 10 11 10 - 23-6315 46 days H de Bromhead (110 miles) N Fehily 11/1 3:55.30
2016 Good 10 Sprinter Sacre 10 11 10 - P2P2-11 80 days N Henderson (51 miles) N De Boinville 5/1 3:49.10
2015 Good 9 Dodging Bullets 7 11 10 - 245-311 53 days P Nicholls (69 miles) S Twiston-Davies 9/2 3:53.30
2014 Good 11 Sire De Grugy 8 11 10 - 1-12111 53 days G L Moore (120 miles) Jamie Moore 11/4 3:48.90
2013 Good to Soft 7 Sprinter Sacre 7 11 10 - 1111-11 46 days N Henderson (51 miles) B J Geraghty 1/4 4:00.20
2012 Good 8 Finian's Rainbow 9 11 10 - 1121-12 53 days N Henderson (51 miles) B J Geraghty 4/1 3:52.10
2011 Good 11 Sizing Europe 9 11 10 - 113-223 45 days H de Bromhead (110 miles) A Lynch 10/1 3:54.90
2010 Good 9 Big Zeb 9 11 10 - F1-2141 45 days C A Murphy B J Geraghty 10/1 3:51.30
2009 Good to Soft 12 Master Minded 6 11 10 - 1112-11 53 days P Nicholls (69 miles) R Walsh 4/11 3:59.40
2008 Good to Soft 8 Master Minded 5 11 10 - 1F-2U11 33 days P Nicholls (69 miles) R Walsh 3/1 3:55.80