The Cheltenham Festival is famous for being the most competitive and best four days of National Hunt horse racing anywhere in the world, but we’re in for a real treat this year.
A wide-open Champion Hurdle and fascinating renewal of the Gold Cup ensure that the meeting starts and finishes in style. It’s Ladies Day and the Queen Mother Champion Chase looks the one race that is toughest to call, however.
There is something wonderfully familiar about the dynamic of this year’s two-mile championship steeplechase. The older stager in dual race winner Altior versus the young pretenders, Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil.
Ask anyone for Cheltenham 2020 tips and they’ll tell you the Champion Chase concerns these three. With A Plus Tard and Min set to clash in the Ryanair Chase less than 24 hours later, it’s big prices bar the market principals.
Altior is ten now, but legendary Nicky Henderson stable companions Sprinter Sacre and Special Tiara, both had their finest hours when winning this race at that age. He isn’t going to get any better but, over two miles and with a set of obstacles to jump, no horse has been his equal.
Father time is what makes Altior vulnerable. There isn’t the invincible aura that once surrounded owner Patricia Pugh’s pride and joy after he went to Ascot on reappearance and got beaten by Cyrname.
It’s worth remembering Altior was completely out of his comfort zone over a longer trip that he had never tried before on slow ground. One defeat in 21 races over hurdles and fences doesn’t make him a bad horse.
That is precisely why Altior, a winner at the last four Festivals, remains at the head of the Cheltenham betting on the Champion Chase at 15/8. His nearest challengers are still progressing, however, and that is why the market is so tight.
Willie Mullins has pretty much done it all in his illustrious training career, except winning the Champion Chase. That hasn’t been for the want of trying, so the lightly-raced and unexposed Chacun Pour Soi – an impressive runner in the Dublin Chase last time out – makes a strong case.
He beat his other market rival, Defi Du Seuil, at the Punchestown Festival last season as well, but Philip Hobbs’s stable star went there at the end of a long campaign. Chacun Pour Soi has only had five starts over fences, so there should be more to come from him.
Defi Du Seuil has two Festival victories under his belt, and a 75 percent strike rate from eight career starts at Cheltenham. The fact that he stays further, and has a turn of foot from the final fence, are both big pluses.
As Defi Du Seuil is the youngest of the main Champion Chase contenders aged seven, and has won the other Grade 1 two-mile races in Britain this season, he has every right to be prominent in the betting. We’ll soon find out which of these three fine horses is best.