By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival. It brings together the top two-mile chasers from Britain and Ireland to clash at the home of National Hunt racing.
This grade one over two miles (1 mile 7 furlongs and 199 yards to be precise) has been won by some incredible horses – Crisp, Remittance Man, Viking Flagship, One Man, Flagship Uberalles, Moscow Flyer, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre.
Altior won this in 2018 and 2019 and looks to equal Badsworth Boy’s record of three victories, which occurred in consecutive years from 1983 to 1985. Last season, Altior missed the race through injury and flashy grey Politologue passed the post in front, making his owner John Hales the joint most successful owner in the race’s history after One Man and Azertyuiop’s heroics. Altior represents Nicky Henderson and Politologue represents Paul Nicholls. These trainers have both won the race six times.
The 2020 Champion Chase promised to be a mouth-watering clash. Much of the talk in the weeks leading up to the festival was about two horses – reigning champion Altior taking on the new kid on the block Chacun Pour Soi. Neither horse lined up at the Festival, though, with both succumbing to injuries and being non-runners on the day. It left the race with just five runners: Bun Doran, Defi Du Seuil, Dynamite Dollars, Politologue and Sceaux Royal. It was by no means the strongest of Champion Chases but you can only beat the horses that are in the race with you and Politologue did so by nine and a half lengths. Connections decided to give Defi De Seuil the rest of the current season off after two poor performances and Dynamite Dollars is sadly no longer with us. Bun Doran and Sceaux Royal are possible runners this year but will be at big prices.
To begin, let’s take a look at Altior. He is now eleven and has an incredible CV. From his first novice hurdle success in October 2015, he won nineteen races including a Supreme, Arkle and two Champion Chases. This incredible sequence of victories came to an end last season when he was second to Cyrname over two miles five. The trip was completely out of his comfort zone and, whilst the race was highly-anticipated, it probably didn’t do either horse much good in the long run. In February, he managed to win next time out in the Game Spirit at Newbury, beating Sceaux Royal, who has won three races since. An old injury flared up in the days before the 2020 Champion Chase and he was forced to sit out.
This season saw him be a non-runner for the Tingle Creek, owing to bad ground, and he eventually made his seasonal debut on Boxing Day in the Desert Orchid Chase. He was evens favourite but was scrubbed along turning for home and was left out-paced by Nube Negra. He was extremely tired at the finish so Nico De Boinville dismounted straight after the line. A few days later, it surfaced that he ‘scoped dirty’ and the race came at a time when the Henderson yard were under the weather. His target was then the Game Spirit at Newbury but, after the race was rescheduled for eight days after its original slot, he bypassed it, meaning he will head straight to the festival. If Henderson has managed to get him to peak fitness in time for Cheltenham, he will be in with a shout but he hasn’t had the most straightforward preparations for this year and he goes into it off the back of just one run. I fancied him more for the race last year than I do now, especially after some dominant performances from his rivals.
The result of the Desert Orchid Chase will be questioned as Altior wasn’t at his peak. Nube Negra was something of a surprise winner but he travelled incredibly well, maybe even too well. He cruised into the lead and powered strongly through the line. His jumping was strong, despite a little bit of a miscommunication at the last, but, by that time, the race was in safe keeping. He has uncommon beginnings for a Champion Chaser – he started his career in Spain and is by Dink, who has had only two foals to race in England. However, Dan Skelton has a few young horses by this sire and purchased him to stand at Alne Park Stud in Warwickshire, which is extremely exciting. Last season, Nube Negra won his first two chases at Warwick and Fakenham before finishing second in grade one and grade two company. The Kempton success has been his only race so far this season and it was just his fifth over fences. There is definitely more progression to come from this seven-year-old.
However, there is an odds-on favourite – Chacun Pour Soi – and he absolutely cannot be ignored. This Willie Mullins-trained and Susanna and Rich Ricci-owned gelding has raced only seven times in Ireland. He is by four-time group two winner Policy Maker and out of a grade three winning hurdler. His career began in France where he was one from four over hurdles before a 1089-day absence between March 2016 and March 2019. He bolted up by thirty one lengths at Naas on debut and then went to the Punchestown Festival, beating Defi De Seuil and Duc De Genievres, at 3/1 (the largest starting price he has ever had in Ireland). At the following Leopardstown Christmas meeting, A Plus Tard, a 2021 Gold Cup contender, probably out-stayed him in the two-mile grade one. He went to the Dublin Racing Festival and won the Dublin Chase in February but he didn’t make it over to Cheltenham due to an injury, which remains a concern in 2021.
This season, Chacun Pour Soi has barely put a hoof wrong. The Paddy Power Rewards Club Chase at Christmas was his early season target and connections decided to give him a run so that he was completely fit and ready. That was at Naas where he won by nineteen lengths. The opposition weren’t particularly strong and only one other horse finished. However, the prep run worked and he cruised in at Leopardstown. In behind were Notebook, who was well-fancied for the Arkle; the Arkle winner, Put The Kettle On; Annamix, who hasn’t done much for the form since; Castlegrace Paddy, who had previously followed in Politologue, and Le Richebourg, who was a smart novice. Last time out, Chacun Pour Soi was allowed to gallop home unfussed after Min, his main rival, pulled up. He has all of the Irish second-season chasers covered but he is yet to go abroad specifically for a race and faces new opposition. Those factors appear his only weaknesses but it can’t be too much of a worry as he seems quite a relaxed horse. Cheltenham is a unique track and it will be interesting to see how he handles the undulating nature.
Put The Kettle On loves Cheltenham. She is unbeaten at the track and unbeaten in the hands of Aidan Coleman. She raced all though the summer of 2019, winning five, finishing second once and third once. The last of those victories was in a grade two at Cheltenham that she won by two and a half lengths, beating Al Dancer, Getaway Trump and Rouge Vif. After 114 days, she returned to Cheltenham for the Arkle and went off at 16/1, sort of forgotten about. She out-fought Fakir D’oudairies to win impressively. This season, before the Covid travel restrictions, she returned to Cheltenham and won gamely in the Shloer Chase. The race wasn’t extremely strong and, next time, travel restrictions forced her to run at Leopardstown, where she was third to Chacun Pour Soi. Henry De Bromhead mentioned in an interview that Leopardstown probably didn’t suit her and it wouldn’t surprise me if she gives Chacun Pour Soi more to think about in the Champion Chase. Mares are a rare feature in Champion Chases with the only mare to have ran in the race since 2000 being Kario De Sormain, who unseated at the first in 2006.
Duc De Genievres will probably be a big price for this race but, due to his time in Ireland and now England, he has raced against the majority of the leading contenders. After finishing third to Chacun Pour Soi at the Punchestown Festival in 2019, he has been second to Bun Doran; second to Put The Kettle On; third behind Nube Negra and Altior, and seventh behind First Flow and Politologue in the Clarence House.
The Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January was a thrilling spectacle with two beautiful horses neck-and-neck from the outset. First Flow and Politologue made it a strong test of stamina and, by half way, they were well clear. Eventually, First Flow pulled nine lengths clear of Politologue, giving Kim Bailey a much-needed grade one and a third for jockey David Bass. It was an inaugural grade one win for First Flow and he is just the definition of tough. He has won ten races from eighteen starts and he has only been out of the top three on three occasions. He has won his last six starts and climbed from a Leicester class three novice chase to grade one glory. In December, he ran at Wetherby, carrying over a stone more than his rivals on bottomless ground and battled on to win. Kim Bailey’s charge goes best with a bit of cut in the ground and this will be his first experience of the Cheltenham chase course.
Politologue has to be one of the most underrated horses in training and the defeat last time won’t have helped people’s faith in him. In his career, he has won four grade ones and one of those came at the beginning of the season when he won the Tingle Creek Chase in extremely good style. He wasn’t even out-right favourite for much of the lead up to the race and, instead, his stablemate Greaneteen was his main rival after winning the Haldon Gold Cup. The doubters were wrong after he jumped superbly around Sandown and won by seven lengths. The ride Harry Skelton gave that day was superb (like his win on Arkle contender Allmankind earlier in the day) but, next time out, Politologue was ridden by Paul Nicholls’ retained rider Harry Cobden. This was due to connections wanting the jockey who would ride Politologue at Cheltenham to partner him in the Clarence House. Skelton stayed loyal to his brother, Dan, and chose the exciting Nube Negra. There was nothing wrong with the ride Cobden gave at Ascot with Politologue possibly over-racing alongside First Flow. Politologue always runs his race and, over the past few seasons, connections have really got a handle on how best to campaign him. Some people may deem him “lucky” to have won a Champion Chase but, regardless, he will have his name on the Champion Chase roll of honour forever.
So, who will join that list by winning the 2021 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase?
I’m going to side with Nube Negra. I was blown away by the way he jumped and travelled in the Desert Orchid Chase and there is so much left to come from him. Harry Skelton, who rode the winner last year, has been riding incredibly well this season and I think he is especially good on two-mile chasers like this horse, Allmankind and Politologue. It will be a tough ask to get past Chacun Pour Soi, who has been a dominant force over in Ireland this season. He is yet to tackle Cheltenham, though, and Nube Negra already has experience of the track in his juvenile days when he was third in the Fred Winter. Even if Chacun Pour Soi does win, Nube Negra is a good each way price and I’m excited to see the fast and furious Champion Chase!
What You All Think
I’m always keen to see what my Twitter followers make of a race and here is a selection of what they think…