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Brian Healy assesses the potential runners who could line up in the Champion Chase, the feature race of Wednesday's second day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The second day of the Cheltenham Festival features the two-mile Champion Chase, and a potential clash of the titans could be on the agenda for punters as last season’s sparkling Arkle winner Altior could clash with the returning Douvan, and defending champion Special Tiara amongst others in what may be a pulsating contest.

Nicky Henderson’s Altior (8/11, William Hill) is unbeaten over obstacles, which include winning the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle - beating Min - and then posting a perfect 7-7 over fences, which include a defeat of Cloudy Dream in last season’s Arkle, and routing Champion Chase winner Special Tiara in the Celebration Chase at Sandown on his final start of last season.

The brilliant High Chaparral gelding had Tingle Creek winner Politologue in arrears when making a successful return to action following wind surgery in Newbury’s Game Spirit Chase, and likely to be sharper for the outing then he ought to take all the beating here.

Henderson could also send Top Notch (20/1, Ladbrokes) into battle here, but the drop to two miles isn’t certain to prove a positive for the Poliglote gelding who was brushed aside by Waiting Patiently at Ascot in the Ascot Chase.

He had won both previous starts, at Ascot and Taunton, and he was beaten only one length behind Yorkhill in last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase. He’s not entirely without hope, but he would make more appeal over further and this two mile trip and he could go to the Ryanair Chase instead.

Nicky Henderson can win the 2018 Champion Chase.
Nicky Henderson can win the 2018 Champion Chase.
Willie Mullins has been making some noise about the potentially returning Douvan (9/2, William Hill) into the Champion Chase picture, and his top-class chaser was sent off a red-hot favourite in this race twelve months ago.

An early injury sustained in the race put paid to his chances, and he disappointed in finishing a well-beaten seventh; but he remains top-class and if coming back to his earlier form then he would push Altior all the way. 

It would be a tough ask of the Walk In The Park gelding to win a race of this nature on his seasonal bow; while he is still not a certain runner, and Mullins will leave it as late as he can before making a decision on the star’s participation.

If he does turn up and is near his peak, then he will go close.

Douvan could be joined in the field by Min (11/4, Paddy Power) who was beaten by Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle two seasons ago, but has since gone on to win four of his five chase starts.

His sole defeat came at Leopardstown over the Christmas festival where he was first past the post, but subsequently demoted behind Simply Ned who was awarded the race in the stewards’ room.

A half-brother to Douvan, the Walk In The Park gelding slammed the same rival to claim the Grade Two Dublin Chase back at Leopardstown; he can get competitive in this contest, although taking on Altior and potentially Douvan could prove a step too far for the seven year old.

Un De Sceaux (12/1, William Hill) holds an entry for this race,but the Ryanair is the intended target for the Voix Du Nord gelding who will only switch to this race if something befalls Douvan and Min, and neither make the line-up; while Great Field (16/1, BetVictor) if he makes the Festival could give Mullins another powerful contender for the two-mile prize.

The Great Pretender gelding has shown himself to be a very talented performer in racking up a four-timer of wins in Ireland, including the Grade One Ryanair Novices’ Chase, beating Ordinary World by eight lengths despite his saddle slipping which left jockey Jody McGarvey clinging on for dear life.

Like the one facing Douvan, it would be a monster task for him to win this at the first time of asking on his return as well as being his first foray out of novice company; but it has been hard not to have been impressed by him thus far, and if he does make the final line-up then he could be hard to catch at the head of affairs. 

He has won on the back of absences of 484 days and 314 days, so there is hope that he could be up to the job if making his possible return here, although Mullins has intimated that he is likely to miss the Festival and instead target Aintree or Punchestown in order to give the JP McManus-owned chaser more time to get back to fitness.

Yorkhill (16/1, Unibet) meanwhile has blotted his copybook over fences, and a return to hurdling for a crack at the Champion Hurdle looks more likely for last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase winner who beat only one home behind Min last time out.

Despite being 2-2 at this venue, he would face a big task if taking in this contest given his p

American Tom (50/1, BetVictor) hasn’t looked the most natural jumper of fences, and having been beaten the last twice in lesser company he would face a very stiff test if pitching into this race.

Paul Nicholls is no stranger to Champion Chase success, but his Politologue couldn’t live with the returning Altior at Newbury, despite himself coming into the race on the back of a hat-trick which included a Grade One at Sandown.

The Poliglote gelding was beaten four lengths by Nicky Henderson’s star, and with that one likely to prove sharper for the run then the Ditcheat runner is likely to come up short again in this rematch.

Henry de Bromhead’s defending champion Special Tiara (16/1, Unibet) ought to give a good account as he bids to try to retain his crown; but he hasn’t been in the same form as when winning this race last term and he was probably fortunate that Douvan ran below his best.

The Saddler Maker gelding was all out to hold off the late thrust of Fox Norton, where Top Gamble (66/1, Paddy Power) and God’s Own (33/1, Ladbrokes) were both behind along with the injured Douvan.

Brushed aside by Altior at Sandown, he has finished third in both completed starts this term, although he fell behind Politologue at Kempton over Christmas; Min was his latest conquerer at Leopardstown, and while a better surface will be more to his liking, he faces a stiff test to keep hold of his crown.

Henry de Bromhead could also be represented by Ordinary World (50/1, Ladbrokes) who is smart at his best, and the Milan gelding finished third behind Altior in last season’s Arkle.

No match for Great Field subsequently, he has made the frame this term at Naas and Leopardstown; but he disappointed back at the latter venue behind Min, having also come off worst behind that rival over Christmas in the reversed result that gave the win to Simply Ned, when only fourth in the Dublin Chase.

Neither Kerry Lee’s Top Gamble or Tom George’s God’s Own look good enough to win this; while Charbel (25/1, Unibet) might have given Altior a race in last season’s Arkle when falling two out when still going well.

Kim Bailey’s charge however hasn’t run up to form in three subsequent outings, finishing fourth the last twice and that fall may have dented his confidence.

The fragile but talented Ar Mad (33/1, Ladbrokes) has something to find with Politologue on their Tingle Creek run, but Gary Moore’s star is likely to make a bold sight in front with his fearless style of running and jumping. 

A Grade One winner as a novice, beating Bristol De Mai, he has only twice won going this way round - both at Plumpton - and he’s not sure to be suited by this venue.

Brian Ellison could send Forest Bihan into the Champion Chase.
Trainer Brian Ellison.
Forest Bihan
 (33/1, William Hill) meanwhile looked held behind Politologue when that rival fell at Aintree last term, and Brian Ellison’s charge has found the same rival too strong again at Kempton. Subsequently fourth at Doncaster in January, the northern raider faces a tall order to land this contest and a big jolt of improvement would be required.

Gordon Elliott could have several runners in the field, including Doctor Phoenix (33/1, Coral) who would be in search of a hat-trick having won back-to-back races which include a win in Grade Three company at Naas last time.

The Dr Massini gelding ran out a 13-lengths winner, where he also had American Tom, Ball D’arc (50/1, Unibet) and Tell Us More (100/1, William Hill) all beaten behind. Ball D’arc was subsequently found to be lame, so his participation must now be in doubt, but Tell Us More was sent off a big-priced outsider in that race, so his task looks even more huge now, assuming he lines up.

The Game Changer (100/1, Unibet) meanwhile isn’t good enough to win a race like this, and he has been well-beaten in much weaker races than this in the past. The Arcadio gelding is likely to take in an alternate target in any case, with the Grand Annual, County Hurdle and Martin Pipe all possible entries for him.

VERDICT


Even with the potential presence of Douvan in opposition, it is hard to get away from the claims of ALTIOR (8/11, William Hill) to land the Champion Chase, given he produced a scintillating display on his return at Newbury and ought to prove much sharper for the run.

With Douvan having to prove fitness on his own return from a lay-off, he may find Nicky Henderson’s charge too much to handle on his first start back; the Henderson runner will bid to continue the excellent form tie-in of previous season’s Arkle winner going on to win the Champion Chase, and the unbeaten over fences High Chaparral gelding ought to take all the beating here.

Min has the potential to improve, but he’ll need to on the balance of his form, and with Altior having already brushed aside Politologue then defending champion Special Tiara could be worth an each-way saver.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge is winless in four starts since beating Fox Norton to the prize twelve months ago - helped by Douvan’s flop - and the soft ground he has encountered in all three starts, which include when beaten behind Min last time wouldn’t have seen the Saddler Maker gelding produce his best.

A better surface at Cheltenham would help him, and he’s no back number in this contest if getting more suitable ground.

2017 CHAMPION CHASE SELECTION - ALTIOR (8/11, William Hill), Special Tiara (16/1, Unibet)
The Queen Mother Champion Chase (3:20pm) is a Class A Grade 1 chase run over two miles. It is open to horses aged 5 years old and upwards.

The total prize fund in 2017 is £350,000 and the race was run on Wednesday, March 15.

2018 Champion Chase Star-Rating Guide

Our expert has put together this star-rating guide for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature Championship race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.

Day two’s headline race is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, one of the most famous contests in the sport of horse racing. Some of the best chasers in history have entered the Cheltenham Festival winners’ enclosure after winning this two-mile Grade One and a strong field has assembled to battle it out in this year’s edition.

Our expert has put together this star-rating guide, taking a look at each of the main challengers in details and rating their chances of winning out of five stars.

2018 Champion Chase Star-Rating Guide


ALTIOR - 8/11 Paddy Power

Nicky Henderson’s hopes and dreams for this year’s Cheltenham Festival were hanging by a thread  when he revealed Altior was suffering from a wind problem. The two-time Cheltenham champion had ended last season on top of the chasing ranks and was expected to run roughshod through the competition in 2018. 

A minor operation followed, after which Henderson intimated Altior might not be seen until the Festival. Yet, the eight-year-old’s recovery took less time than first feared and Altior was fit to try and defend his Game Spirit crown at Newbury. 12 months previous, Altior had destroyed his elders with a superb jumping display. His triumph in 2018 was a little less emphatic, but still just as impressive, as Altior brushed off the advances of Politologue after the last as if he were a novice.

Altior is yet to taste defeat over obstacles and both of his visits to the Festival have resulted in comfortable Grade One victories. With question marks surrounding many of his Champion Chase rivals, it seems a tremendous hat-trick of Cheltenham triumphs is there for the taking for Altior.

ALTIOR RATING ⭐ 5 ⭐


AR MAD 
- 33/1 Ladbrokes

When Ar Mad powered to a stunning victory in the 2017 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown – destroying Bristol De Mai by 10 lengths – it seemed British chasing had a new star on it’s hands. Sadly, thanks mainly to a string of injury problems, Gary Moore hasn’t been able to help Ar Mad fulfil his significant potential.

Moore’s eight-year-old made just one appearance last season, fading to finish fourth in the Tingle Creek. He kicked off this season with a poor effort in the Haldon Gold Cup and a fairly uncompetitive return to the Tingle Creek, crossing the line a five-length third. Moore said, when Ar Mad was at the peak of his powers, that the track here at Cheltenham wouldn’t suit him – so it would be a surprise if he even approached the post in Wednesday’s feature race.

AR MAD RATING ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

CHARBEL - 25/1 Coral

For a long way in last year’s Arkle, it looked like Charbel was going to serve it up to Altior like no rival had managed thus far. Kim Bailey’s excitement turned to horror in the blink of an eye, as the front-runner crashed to the turf two from home and his trainer will have been delighted to see Charbel quickly get back to his feet.

That fall clearly affected Charbel’s jumping. He was extremely cautious at Aintree the following month and Bailey even gave his seven-year-old a spin over hurdles at the start of this season, to try and restore some confidence. Charbel hasn’t been seen since finishing fourth in the Tingle Creek and it’s highly doubtful his name will be mentioned in the closing stages of this year’s Champion Chase

CHARBEL RATING ⭐ 2.5 ⭐


DOCTOR PHOENIX
 - 33/1 Boylesports

Anyone who saw Dr Phoenix running in handicaps for David Dennis last season wouldn’t have dreamed he would turn into a Champion Chase contender. Yet, since making the switch to Gordon Elliott, the ten-year-old has taken his game to a whole new level. 

After one win from his first three starts in Ireland, Dr Phoenix powered to a tremendous victory in the Dan Moore Handicap, beating a handy field of handicappers by nine lengths. Elliott rewarded his charge with a maiden outing in Graded company and Dr Phoenix rose to the challenge, comfortably seeing off Alisier D’Irelande and potential Cheltenham rival, American Tom by a wide margin. 

With his rating now approaching 160, an appearance in a handicap at Cheltenham is out of the question. Despite his clear improvement, it would still be a huge ask for this likeable ten-year-old to put himself in the frame.

DOCTOR PHOENIX RATING ⭐ 3 ⭐

DOUVAN - 9/2 William Hill

It was instantly evident there was something amiss with Douvan as his unbeatable aura was shattered at Cheltenham last year. That proved to be the case as a pelvic fracture was discovered, but Willie Mullins was confident he would be able to get his top chaser fit in time for next season. 

After a list of potential reappearance dates were cancelled, Mullins almost wrote off the season just before Christmas. However, Douvan’s rehab took a turn for the better and it looks like the Prestbury Park patrons will bear witness to the titanic showdown between Douvan and Altior.

Personally, I would rather Douvan didn’t run at the Festival this year. It would be an incredible piece of training if Mullins had him conditioned to challenge, but it’s hard to see how he can match Altior after a year off the track. At his peak, Douvan would be more than a match for the favourite. But after a season of despair and confusion, he’s very hard to back.

DOUVAN RATING ⭐ 4 ⭐
GOD'S OWN - 33/1 Ladbrokes

God’s Own has been a fantastic servant for Tom George, but it seems the ten-year-old’s powers are starting to wane. He’s yet to win in eight starts since that famous victory over Vautour at Punchestown in 2016 and he’s looked well below par on both his outings in lesser contests this season.

A rating of 158 means the handicaps are still out of reach for God’s Own and Tom George has little choice but to enter him into the Champion Chase. He showed glimpses of his old sparkle when finishing a two-length third on his return to the Punchestown Festival, but the ten-year-old has shown no form since and is only entered to make up the numbers.

GOD’S OWN RATING ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

GREAT FIELD - 16/1 Boylesports

Like stablemate Douvan, Great Field has had to spend the entire season on the sidelines, thanks to a serious of niggling injury problems. Willie Mullins’ charge is unbeaten over fences. His jumping got better and better with every outing last year and rounded off a sparkling novice campaign with a superb victory at the Punchestown Festival.

I was really looking forward to seeing what Great Field could achieve outside novice company. It would be brilliant to see him make an appearance at Cheltenham, but there’s been little noise coming out of the Mullins’ camp with regards to Great Field and it would be quite surprising if he even made the final entries for this illustrious race. 

GREAT FIELD RATING ⭐ 3 ⭐
MIN - 11/4 Paddy Power

Min returned with a bang on his first start of the new season, cruising to a routine victory on his first crack at two-and-a-half miles. Much of the same was expected as Mullins’ seven-year-old carried a short price into the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, but Min struggled for much of the 17 furlong trip. It took some serious interference for Paul Townend’s mount to pass the post ahead of Simply Ned and the result was rightly overturned in the steward’s room.

Willie then decided to pit Min’s wits against stablemate Yorkhill at the Dublin Racing Festival, with many expecting a nail-biting battle. In the end, it was a non-contest, as Min produced a superb jumping display and romped clear to claim a lengthy Grade One victory.

Wednesday’s feature race will see Min and Altior lock horns for the first time since that memorable Supreme in 2016, where Min had to settle for second best. You could argue Min has improved since then, but Altior has shown much more progression and it’s hard to see how Willie Mullins’ chaser can turn the tables.

MIN RATING ⭐ 4.5 ⭐

POLITOLOGUE - 10/1 Paddy Power

In Altior’s absence, Politologue rose to the top end of the two-mile chasing ranks in Britain. Paul Nicholls’ charge produced an excellent display to deny Fox Norton in the Tingle Creek, before scoring a routine victory in the Desert Orchid Chase when faced with little in the way of competition.

Despite the Queen Mother favourite not stepping foot on a racetrack for almost 300 days, Politologue was given little to no chance in the Game Spirit. Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount tried valiantly to put Altior under pressure, but the seven-year-old was powerless to deny the favourite. Politologue is a fine horse, but he’s not Champion Chase calibre.

POLITOLOGUE RATING ⭐ 3.5 ⭐
SPECIAL TIARA - 16/1 BetVictor

As Douvan faltered on the big stage, Noel Fehily and Special Tiara were there to pick up the pieces, holding off the charging Fox Norton to claim a famous victory in the Queen Mother. Henry De Bromhead’s star then clashed with Altior on his final outing of the season at Sandown, but was left languishing behind the Arkle winner, as Nicky Henderson’s charge claimed a comfortable victory.

Considering his dislike of deep ground, Special Tiara’s third in the Shloer Chase wasn’t a bad result. A tumble in the Desert Orchid followed, but De Bromhead’s eleven-year-old bounced back well at the Dublin Racing Festival to claim a share of the place-pot. Special Tiara will be greeted with a rousing reception as he attempts to regain his Champion Chase crown, but on seasonal form, a place is the best the returning king can hope for.

SPECIAL TIARA RATING ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Full Champion Chase Ratings


⭐ ALTIOR - 5 ⭐
*
MIN - 4.5
*
DOUVAN - 4
*
POLITOLOGUE - 3.5
SPECIAL TIARA - 3.5
*
GREAT FIELD - 3
DOCTOR PHOENIX - 3
*
AR MAD - 2.5
CHARBEL - 2.5
GOD'S OWN - 2.5

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Queen Mother Chase Facts

Recent Winners

The feature race on the second day of the Festival is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Traditionally, the race has fewer entrants than the other Grade 1 events, but it certainly doesn’t suffer as a result. In fact, for many, this is the most exciting race of the fours days as it provides the thrilling spectacle of the best two mile chasers flying the Cheltenham fences at break neck speed.

Previous winners of the Arkle Trophy have a great record in this race - in fact the last 12 Arkle winners who returned the following season to compete in this race ALL finished in the first 3 (five winners, five second-places and two third-places). You very rarely get a below par winner of the race and indeed the winner of this race is often rated higher by the handicapper than the winner of the King George or the Gold Cup.

The event has produced some great winners and some great Festival memories, including some of the most incredible finishes in the history of the sport. No one who was there to witness them will ever forget the epic battles between Edredon Blue and Direct Route in 2000, or Viking Flagship, Travado and Deep Sensation in 1994, and the emotional triumph for One Man in 1998 must rate as one of the most popular Festival victories of all time.

2017        Special Tiara 11/1
2016        Sprinter Sacre
2015        Dodging Bullets
2014        Sire De Grugy
2013 Sprinter Sacre
2012 Finian's Rainbow
2011 Sizing Europe
2010 Big Zeb
2009 Master Minded
2008 Master Minded
2007 Voy Por Ustedes
2006 Newmill
2005 Moscow Flyer
2004 Azertyuiop
2003 Moscow Flyer
2002 Flagship Uberalles
2000 Edredon Bleu
1999 Call Equiname
1998 One Man
1997 Martha’s Son
1996 Klairon Davis
1995 Viking Flagship
1994 Viking Flagship
1993 Deep Sensation
1992 Remittance Man
1991 Katabatic
1990 Barnbrook Again
1989 Barnbrook Again
(prior winners detailed at bottom of page)

Course

Given the speed at which the runners travel, jumping is more at a premium in this race than in perhaps any other that is run at the Festival. Even the slightest mistake can cost lengths, as the pace is unrelenting from start to finish. As always, the ditches out in the country, and the second and third last fences coming down the hill, often provide key moments in the contest.

Race Facts

1. The National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase was first run in 1959 and the Queen Mother’s name was added to the race title in 1980, the year of her 80th birthday. The race was first sponsored in from 2007-10 by Seasons Holidays and is now backed by online bookmaker Sportingbet..

2. The race’s roll of honour includes plenty of multiple winners. Badsworth Boy (1983-85) is the only three-time winner. The double winners are Fortria (1960 and 1961), Drinny’s Double (1967 and 1968), Royal Relief (1972 and 1974), Skymas (1976 and 1977), Hilly Way (1978 and 1979), Pearlyman (1987 and 1988), Barnbrook Again (1989 and 1990), Viking Flagship (1994 and 1995), Moscow Flyer (2003 and 2005) and Master Minded (2008 and 2009).

3. Irish-trained runners have a good record in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, winning 20 of the 52 runnings, including Big Zeb, trained by Colm Murphy in 2010.

4. Tom Dreaper has the best record of any trainer in the race, winning six runnings with Fortria (1960 and 1961), Ben Stack (1964), Flyingbolt (1966), Muir (1969), and Straight Fort (1970). Of current trainers, Paul Nicholls (1999 Call Equiname, 2004 Azertyuiop and the 2008 & 2009 winner Master Minded) has the best record.

5. Flyingbolt was the shortest-priced winner when succeeding at 1/5 in 1966, while Another Dolly, who was awarded the 1980 race at odds of 33/1, provided the biggest upset.

6. Pat Taaffe is the most successful rider with five wins, while Ruby Walsh (Azertyuiop 2003 and Master Minded 2008 and 2009) and Barry Geraghty (Moscow Flyer 2003 and 2005, Big Zeb 2010 and Finian's Rainbow 2012) are the only current jockeys to have landed more than one Queen Mother Champion Chase.

7. The oldest horse to have triumphed was the 12-year-old Skymas in 1977, while the youngest victor was Master Minded, who was just five when winning for the first time in 2008.

8. A small but select field usually lines up for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The largest field was in 1999 when 13 runners went to post, one while only five runners lined up in 1985, 1972, 1968, 1964, 1963 and 1961.

9. The most successful owners are George Ansley, who enjoyed three wins with Fortria (1960 and 1961) and Straight Fort (1970), and Doug Armitage who had three victories with Badsworth Boy (1983, 1984 and 1985).

10. Michael Dickinson trained the winner for three consecutive years with Rathgorman (1982) and Badsworth Boy (1983 & 1984). His mother Monica had taken charge of the training operation for Badsworth Boy’s final success in 1985.

11. In 1986, the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Buck House subsequently met with that year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup heroine Dawn Run in a special match race at Punchestown in April, 1986. It was Dawn Run who prevailed by two and a half lengths.

12. The Irish Independent Arkle Chase is a good guide for future success in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Voy Por Ustedes (2007), Azertyuiop (2004), Moscow Flyer (2003 and 2005), Flagship Uberalles (2002), Klairon Davis (1996) and Remittance Man (1992) all won the novices’ event before their Queen Mother Champion Chase victory.

2012 Queen Mother Champion Chase Review

Sizing Europe was bidding to win the race for the second year running and he very nearly pulled it off, only succumbing to FINIAN'S RAINBOW on the run-in, after the last fence had been omitted due to the earlier fall of Wishfull Thinking.

Just a length and a quarter separated the pair at the line and, arguably, we may have seen a different result had they jumped the last fence, with Sizing Europe seemingly more affected by the dolled off fence and having to swerve around it.

The front two finished 15 lengths clear of the third horse home, Big Zeb, with Gauvain a further 11 lengths away in fourth.

2011 Queen Mother Champion Chase Review

Henry De Bromhead and Sizing Europe returned to the winner’s enclosure at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival for the second year on the bounce as the Irish raider put up a sensational display in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The 2010 Arkle Trophy winner returned to his best form and bounced back to winning ways under the hands of Andrew Lynch with an imperious display of jumping at Prestbury Park.

Sent off a 10/1 shot, the superstar managed to hold off the challenge of Colm Murphy’s second favourite Big Zeb after the two battled it out approaching the final fence with Captain Cee Bee also returning to something like his best to finish third.

Heavily backed dual Champion Chaser Master Minded was well supported before the race but he couldn’t live with the winner and never truly looked like he would be regaining his crown.

De Bromhead’s superstar was cut to 5/1 to retain his title and return to Cheltenham in 2012 for a hat-trick of successes.

2010 Queen Mother Champion Chase Review

A small but select field, and an end to end gallop, ensured wed end up with a winner worthy of any championship contest and with BIG ZEB finally putting his jumping problems behind him he fully earned his place in the history books with a convincing victory here.

Always travelling well, the only concern for his supporters was the fear that the jumping mishaps which have dogged his career to date would rob him of his finest hour. But in fairness to Colm Murphys nine year old, he scarcely put a foot wrong. Indeed, a fine leap at the last sealed the deal, despite him idling briefly on the run in. He seems to jump more fluently off this better ground and although he went off joint fourth favourite of nine, there was nothing lucky about this success. He should put up a bold show if able to turn up to defend his crown next season.

Forpadydeplasterer gamely chased the winner all the way up the straight an effort that was even more meritorious for the fact that he had led the field virtually from flag fall. In addition, he had not enjoyed the best preparation for the race having suffered a stone bruise in the days leading up to the Festival. His problem is that he lacks the finishing speed of the very best horses over two miles, so the Ryanair might be his Festival target next season.

Forpadydeplasterer confirmed the form of last seasons Arkle by again finishing one place ahead of Kalahari King.

Ferdy Murphys charge was never really competitive, but stayed on well to claim the final place and clearly again relished the decent going. Like the runner up, he is probably now worth trying over further.

The brilliant Master Minded has had a rollercoaster season and clearly wasnt at his best here as he could only finish fourth.

A fractured rib was diagnosed after his lacklustre effort over this course in November and his return to action at Newbury last month indicated that he was very much back to his best. However, either that fine effort resulted in him bouncing, he still has a problem, or the ground was too quick for him.

Ruby Walsh was niggling along at the top of the hill and, although he got into contention rounding the turn into the straight, he wasnt travelling as well as the winner and was readily left behind by the first two. He put in a tired leap at the last and was passed for third on the run-in, and clearly this was not the champion of old. He should now be given the summer off to hopefully give his brilliant trainer the chance to get him back to his best.

By contrast, Oh Crick ran a blinder to claim fifth, well clear of the remainder, and he obviously loves this place.

The ground was probably too lively for Golden Silver (sixth), whilst Twist Magic never seems to show his best here, although he lost all chance with a shuddering mistake at the fourth last and was eventually pulled up.

2009 Queen Mother Champion Chase Review

For any other horse, this would have been an impressive victory in one of the season’s blue riband events, but MASTER MINDED raised the bar last season and by his immense standards a seven length victory here suggested that the reigning Champion didn’t have to be at his brilliant best to land back to back renewals of this great race.

For all that, his win here was never in doubt, especially after Big Zeb’s departure four out. That was also the point in the race when Ruby Walsh took Master Minded up on to the heels of the leaders, and when he actually hit the front soon after the second last, the race was soon put to bed.

On this evidence, it is hard to see him not achieving legendary status at next year’s Festival by matching previous triple winner, Badsworth Boy. It seems as though the rest can’t even beat him when he isn’t quite a hundred per cent!

The veteran, Well Chief ran a blinder in second, confirming himself as one of the best two milers never to win this race.

It was a terrific effort after a 698-day absence, and one can only imagine what he might have achieved had he stayed injury free throughout his career. He stayed on strongly at the death here, having been outpaced slightly when the winner, Petit Robin and Briareus formed a breakaway group running down the hill.

Petit Robin hung on for third, but finished tired having mixed it with the winner for a long way. A mistake at the last didn’t help his chances and as a six year old he is entitled to improve further and challenge Master Minded again next season.

The 2006 Champion Chaser, Newmill stayed on well to finish fourth, but was never really in the contest. He often runs well here and decent ground is clearly the key to him. He would have claimed second had the race been over half a furlong more.

Scotsirish ran well to take fifth and clearly wasn’t inconvenienced by the step back in trip. He was hampered slightly at the last by the fall of Briareus, who deserved a better fate, having match strides with the principals for a long way. He was clearly tired at the time.

We’re still to find out how good Big Zeb is. The ground was in his favour here and he was still travelling well within himself when he crashed out. If he can sort out his jumping, he can prove to be the second best two miler chaser around….but he’ll have to go some to beat the awesome Master Minded.

2008 Queen Mother Champion Chase Review

A scintillating effort from MASTER MINDED who, in winning this great race, put up one of the classiest performances seen at the Festival in recent memory. Everything about his destruction of this top quality field was impressive and what made it even more remarkable was the fact that he is the first five-year-old to succeed in the race’s 49 year history. With time on his side, the sky’s the limit and he looks set to dominate this division for years to come.

The winner jumped immaculately throughout and when Ruby Walsh asked him to go and win his race turning for home the response was immediate and electric, and he made the former champion, Voy Por Ustedes, look almost second rate.

The two of them had the race between them from four out, but while Walsh was sitting motionless as he continued lead coming down the hill, Robert Thornton was rowing away on Voy Por Ustedes, trying to keep tabs on the winner. It was a vain pursuit in the end and, if anything, the winning distance of 19 lengths didn’t do justice to Master Minded’s superiority.

The runner up lost nothing in defeat – he was simply beaten by a better horse and there is no reason to think he didn’t give his running. He finished well clear of the rest and had Master Minded not been in the field he would have been an impressive winner himself. He looks ready for a step up in trip though, and the King George could be a long range target.

Nothing else was involved in the business end of the race.

Fair Along clearly wants further, for he was never going the pace and lost his place badly down the back side. It was only after the second last that he finally picked up and he stayed on strongly enough to take a remote third.

Twist Magic (sixth) and Tamarinbleu (seventh) were both disappointing. The former would probably have preferred a faster surface and was never travelling. He only just stays a stiff 2 miles on this sort of ground.

Tamarinbleu’s jumping didn’t hold up under this sort of pressure over this trip and connections probably wished they’d targeted the Ryanair instead. He doesn’t seem to have the speed to live with the top two mile chasers.

2007 Queen Mother Champion Chase Review

What was probably already not the strongest renewal of this great race following the retirements of Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop, and the absence of Nickname due to unsuitable ground, was further devalued by the first fence fall of red hot favourite Well Chief. We’ll never know what would have happened had he stood up, but he had the form in the book to win and it is hard to envisage him not being involved in the finish.

As it was, VOY POR USTEDES was left to uphold the great recent record of Arkle winners in this race for in form jockey / trainer combination of Robert Thornton and Alan King. The horse looked beaten when he made a hash of the second last, but he rallied turning for home and outstayed his main rival, Dempsey on the run in. However, on this evidence, Kauto Star is probably the best two miler chaser about.

Dempsey ran another good race and relished the drying ground. He would surely have won a Champion Chase by now if it was run at Sandown or Kempton as he is significantly better going right handed.

River City in third, was another to enjoy the underfoot conditions. He was travelling really well in this race last year when falling, so this was compensation of sorts. However, the horse who won this event in 2006, Newmill was a big disappointment, as the fall of Well Chief had appeared to leave the race at his mercy. His jumping wasn’t as fluent as usual here and that didn’t help his chances.

Ashley Brook was the hard luck story of the race. He’d led throughout until being passed by the winner and runner up two out. However, he was visibly rallying running down to the last and was only a length behind when he was left short of room at the fence by the front two and fell. He has proven stamina and is up for a fight, and so would surely have worried the winner all the way to the line. He is a very talented, if slightly fragile, performer and at nine years old may have a couple more cracks at this race left in him.

2006 Queen Mother Champion Chase Review

A wonderful display of front running culminated in NEWMILL being crowned the new king of the two mile chasers at the end of an incident packed Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The race had already been deprived through injury of potentially leading players Well Chief, Azertyuiop, Ashley Brook and Contraband, and we only had to wait until the third fence for further drama when the favourite, Kauto Star, fell, bringing down the well supported Dempsey and hampering the reigning champion, Moscow Flyer.

To complete the carnage, Oneway and River City both unseated their riders when still in contention four out, whilst Kario De Sormain and Fundamentalist also failed to finish.

By stark contrast, NEWMILL’S jumping was fast and accurate throughout, and as is so often the case in this race, that proved to be the perfect recipe for success. Try as they might to close the gap on the flat, NEWMILL’S fencing enabled him to keep his challengers at bay and he was actually extending his advantage as he reached the winning post.

NEWMILL had had an unusual build up to the race, but his efforts over hurdles behind Brave Inca earlier in the season had clearly hinted at the enormous ability the horse possesses. Indeed it was only in the weeks leading up to the race that connections finally decided to have a crack at this race, rather than the Champion Hurdle. Freshness seems to be the key to him, as he thrives on having a good break between his races.

Although Fota Island eventually finished second, NEWMILL’S most persistent challenger proved to be the ever game and ultra consistent Mister McGoldrick. In the past he has run most of his best races on flat tracks and it was the final thrust up the Cheltenham hill that found him out here. He too has mixed hurdling with chasing this season to good effect and this must go down as a career best effort.

Fota Island was a bit one paced. He was one of a number of horses who was tapped for toe when NEWMILL increased the tempo running down the hill. The ground may not have been quite as quick as he likes it, but this is his time of year and at 10 years old it is hard to see him finding enough improvement to better this effort next season.

By contrast, Central House would probably have preferred a shade more cut in the ground and it seems as though he simply isn’t quick enough to live with the best horses over this trip on decent ground. However, having disappointed at the Festival on more than one occasion in the past, this was at least a solid performance in the circumstances.

Time may show that this wasn’t a vintage Queen Mother Chase but the race will always be remembered as it proved to be Moscow Flyer’s last - the horse was honorably retired shortly after crossing the line in fifth.

One of the great debates throughout the winter had centered on whether or not Moscow Flyer could recapture his best form and go retain his crown. However, whilst he ran a solid enough race, he was nowhere near his best and connections did the right thing in calling it a day with the horse still in one piece. By finishing where he did he at least earned himself one last trip to the hallowed winners’ enclosure.

Few performers have deserved a long and happy retirement more than this wonderful champion. He is quite simply one of the all time greats.

Watson Lake was the only other finisher.

Of the casualties, River City looked the unluckiest. His shrewd trainer had been confident of a big run before the race and had he stood up he would surely have been in the first three. He certainly seems to have more speed than the second and third and so could have got closer to the winner. He’ll surely win a big race on his favoured fast ground, and could be interesting if making it back to this race in one piece net year.

It may be harsh to put Kato Star’s fall down to inexperience as he was looking right into the sun as he approached the obstacle and appeared to guess at it. However, his price did seem to be very short for a horse with so few outings over fences, who had never run in a race this competitive, on this sort of ground, over fences these stiff. However, he remains an outstanding prospect.

Roll of Honour (1959-1988)

(recent winners detailed towards top of page)

Queen Mother Champion Chase since 1980; previously National Hunt Two Mile Champion Chase from when first run in 1959.

Year Winner Age/Wt Jockey Trainer SP Ran

1988 Pearlyman 9-12-00 Tom Morgan John Edwards 15/8F

1987 Pearlyman 8-12-00 Peter Scudamore John Edwards 13/8F

1986 Buck House 8-12-00 Tommy Carmody Mouse Morris IRE 5/2

1985 Badsworth Boy 10-12-00 Robert Earnshaw Monica Dickinson 11/8

1984 Badsworth Boy 9-12-00 Robert Earnshaw Michael Dickinson 8/13F

1983 Badsworth Boy 8-12-00 Robert Earnshaw Michael Dickinson 2/1

1982 Rathgorman 10-12-00 Kevin Whyte Michael Dickinson 100/30

1981 Drumgora 9-12-00 Frank Berry Arthur Moore IRE 25/1

1980 *Another Dolly 10-12-00 Sam Morshead Fred Rimell 33/1

1979 Hilly Way 9-12-00 Mr Ted Walsh Peter McCreery IRE 7/1

1978 Hilly Way 8-12-00 Tommy Carmody Peter McCreery IRE 7/1

1977 Skymas 12-12-00 Mouse Morris Brian Lusk IRE 7/2

1976 Skymas 11-12-00 Mouse Morris Brian Lusk IRE 8/1

1975 Lough Inagh 8-12-00 Sean Barker Jim Dreaper IRE 100/30

1974 Royal Relief 10-12-00 Bill Smith Edward Courage 6/1

1973 Inkslinger 6-12-00 Tommy Carberry Dan Moore IRE 6/1

1972 Royal Relief 8-12-00 Bill Smith Edward Courage 15/8

1971 Crisp 8-12-00 Paul Kelleway Fred Winter 3/1

1970 Straight Fort 7-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 7/4F

1969 Muir 10-12-00 Ben Hannon Tom Dreaper IRE 15/2

1968 Drinny’s Double 10-12-00 Frank Nash Bob Turnell 6/1

1967 Drinny’s Double 9-12-00 Frank Nash Bob Turnell 7/2

1966 Flyingbolt 7-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 1/5F

1965 Dunkirk 8-12-00 Dave Dick Peter Cazalet 8/1

1964 Ben Stack 7-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 2/1

1963 Sandy Abbot 8-12-00 Stan Mellor George Owen 5/1

1962 Piperton 8-12-00 Dave Dick Archie Thomlinson 100/6

1961 Fortria 9-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 2/5F

1960 Fortria 8-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 15/8F

1959 Quita Que 10-12-00 Bunny Cox Dan Moore IRE 4/9F

*Another Dolly finished second to Chinrullah, who was subsequently disqualified after failing a post-race urine test.

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