Champion Chase Tips – Chacun Hard To Beat But Fellow Irish Raider A Decent Each-Way Bet

Chacun Pour Soi (left) jumps past Min in the Dublin Chase.

Chacun Pour Soi (left) jumps past Min in the Dublin Chase.

Champion Chase 2021

The next stop on Daniel Overall’s ante-post tour of Cheltenham is the prestigious Champion Chase, the highlight of day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival. Will a new king be crowned?

Champion Chase Overview

WLst year’s renewal was one of the most anticipated races of the week. The late withdrawal of Altior and Chacun Pour Soi led to a rather anti-climactic affair, with 2019 runner-up Politologue making all to win the race on his third attempt. 

The main protagonists that we couldn’t wait to see clash last season are all entered, with the exception of Defi Du Seuil, but the circumstances going into the race are vastly different; a year is a long time in racing.

Chacun Pour Soi – A Class Above

Besotted by injuries and setbacks since joining Wille Mullins, you won’t find many nine-year-olds with fewer starts than Chacun Pour Soi. 

He made his stable debut 1089 days after his final start in France, bolting up in the manner of a very smart horse. It was a testament to his ability and the regard to which he was held that connections pitched him into Grade 1 company on his next start, where he beat Defi Du Seuil who had just won the JLT; that performance established Chacun Pour Soi as a genuine Grade 1 performer.

A winner of six of his seven starts for the yard, including four Grade 1’s, he was forced to miss the festival last season at the eleventh hour after as abscess was discovered on his foot. 

While his history of missing engagements doesn’t inspire confidence, the vibes at the beginning of the season were strong. Described as “much straighter” this term, he made a winning seasonal reappearance before taking the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase just three weeks later; impressive considering his record with setbacks and injuries. 

Still, questions remained about whether he would appreciate the stiff uphill finish at Cheltenham as he hadn’t always been one to run through the line. However, he went some way to relieving those concerns as a result of his emphatic win in the Dublin Chase; that race was run at true end-to-end gallop, yet he travelled ominously well and powered clear after the last. Having never previously raced at Cheltenham, he will have the infamous hill to contend with but on the evidence of his most recent start, it’s difficult to envisage it being an issue. 

With his name roughly translating to “Every man for himself”, he’s a horse in his prime while he looks to be in a league of his own at present. 

An Able Deputy?

In the unfortunate, but not impossible event that Chacun Pour Soi does not make it to Prestbury Park, Mullins and Ricci have an alternate in the form of the seven-time Grade 1 winner, Min (28/1). 

With Willie Mullins having such a strong hand in the Ryanair, you could have certainly envisaged a scenario in which Min runs in the Champion Chase, but his recent blip in the Dublin Chase looks to have significantly reduced the possibility of that happening. 

Returning Champions

Only two winners this century have successfully defended their crown in the following season; that is the challenge that awaits Politologue.

He took apart a depleted field last term under a bold front-running ride by Harry Skelton. He returned this season with an emphatic display in the Tingle Creek, seemingly as good as ever despite his age. Second in the Clarence House when judged to have run 7lbs below his best on Racing Post ratings, he ran a fair race albeit he had no excuses for the defeat; perhaps he didn’t enjoy being challenged for the lead as his jumping lacked its usual fluency. He’s been an admirable performer through the years but you feel he will be vulnerable to top class performance although he is a solid each way proposition. 

One of the few to have won back-to-back renewals of the Champion Chase, Altior will now bid to replicate his illustrious stable mate, Sprinter Sacre, by regaining his crown. A perfect nineteen out of nineteen prior to his defeat by Cyrname, his aura of invincibility has been waning in the last couple of seasons due to his two defeats, his age and his lack of appearances on the track. 

Beaten on his belated reappearance, he was never travelling well, looking like a horse desperately in need of further; it was only his innate ability that enabled him to finish second. 

Nicky Henderson was quick to say that he was desperately in need of the run, while his pessimistic vibe has changed to one of hope since the turn of the year. Described as “different compared to how he was before Christmas”, Nicky seemed bullish about Altior’s chances of rediscovering his best form. 

He was due to run again in the Game Spirit (13th February) but Storm Darcy doomed the meeting, forcing them to rearrange it for the following weekend. That has left Nicky with a dilemma as he has voiced concerns over the proximity of that race to Cheltenham. Given his less-than-ideal preparation, the chances of him reclaiming his crown appear bleak. 

New Challengers Emerge

A useful novice chaser last term, Nube Negra took his form to the next level when taking the scalp of Altior in the Desert Orchid. A smooth traveller, he hasn’t raced at Cheltenham since 2018, with Dan Skelton noting that “he never felt he was physically mature enough” for that particular track. 

That’s in the past now, with the improving seven-year-old showing his new found ability to handle a softer surface last time out having previously kept mostly to quicker ground. Three from four when returning from a break of over 100 days, he clearly goes well fresh; a fact that was recognised by his trainer, who was firm in his decision to go to straight to the Champion Chase without a prep run. Harry Skelton’s presence in the saddle was in doubt given his rapport with Politologue, but with Harry Codben taking the ride on the reigning champion chaser in the Clarence House, Dan looks likely to have his brother’s services come March. Nube Negra will need to improve again to take this, but further progress cannot be ruled out given that he’s only had five starts over fences thus far.

A 100/1 outsider prior to the Clarence House, First Flow forced his way into the Champion Chase picture with a surprising, but impressive victory at Ascot. Not renowned for his jumping prowess, he put in his best jumping display by far when beating Politologue under a typically aggressive ride by David Bass.

He was the best horse on the day and he’s now won his last six starts over fences, but some doubts do remain. He does tend to prefer soft ground, which he may not get at Cheltenham, while his last trip to Prestbury Park resulted in him pulling up in the 2018 Supreme having hung badly right; Kim Bailey has stated previously that he prefers going right-handed although he has won going the other way as recently as December. Perhaps he’s less dependent on going right-handed these days, but it’s still a cause for concern. 

Others To Consider

Three from three at Cheltenham over two miles, including an Arkle, Put The Kettle On has certainly earned her chance to become the first mare to win a Champion Chase. While you can question the substance of those victories in the context of this race, she clearly thrives at Cheltenham and Arkle winners have a good record in this race. She was firmly put in her place by Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown when last seen and perhaps connections might consider running her in the Mares’ Chase instead as a result, but she would have each way claims here given her phenomenal track record. 

A beaten favourite in last year’s Arkle, Notebook (33/1) bounced back to form by winning the Grade 2 Poplar Square Chase before finishing second to Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown. Five from eight over fences, he still has scope for improvement over fences and he’s only finished outside of the top two on three occasions; but two of those disappointing runs came at Cheltenham while the other was a fair effort in third behind Chacun Pour Soi at the Dublin Racing Festival. Questions remain over his ability to handle the track and with plenty to find to reverse the form with the favourite, perhaps it’s best to look elsewhere.

Perhaps Cilaos Emery (50/1) is the forgotten horse in the race. Fourth in last year’s Champion Hurdle, he’s still relatively unexposed over fences and he has plenty of class. He was disappointing in the Clonmel Oil Chase over 2m4f on heavy ground, but a drop back in trip on better ground will see him in a better light. 

Champion Chase Big-Race Verdict

While he is yet to race at the track, preference is for Chacun Pour Soi who arrives here at the top of his game while it’s encouraging to see him stand his racing far better than in previous seasons. He’ll be tough to beat, but Put The Kettle On has a solid chance of reaching the frame, with similar comments applying to Politoligue.