The Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival should be one of the first dates in any racing fan’s diary, as this is the day that you’ll get to see the best 2-mile chasers in England and Ireland do battle over 12 fences and 2-miles of Cheltenham’s Old Course.
This century alone we have witnessed great champions like Flagship Uberalles, Moscow Flyer, Azertyioup, Master Minded, Sizing Europe and Sprinter Sacre – yet this season we could witness one of the most awaited battles in Cheltenham history as the best chaser in England Altior takes on Douvan, the horse that Irish Trainer Willie Mullins thinks is potentially the best he’s ever trained.
One 5-year-old, one 6-year-old, two 7-year-olds, one 8-year-old, three 9-year-olds and two 10-year-olds have been successful
Paul Nicholls has trained 3 of the last 10 winners
Nicky Henderson has trained 3 of the last 6 winners
Barry Geraghty has ridden 3 of the last 8 winners
Sprinter Sacre was the shortest-priced winner at 1/4
Special Tiara was the biggest-priced winner at 11/1
England have won 7 and Ireland 3 of the last 10 renewals
Last year’s Arkle winner also won the Supreme Novices Hurdle the previous season, a race in which he had Min back in second, and last year’s Champion Hurdle winner Buveur d’Air back in third. However, he only beat Cloudy Dream 6-lengths in the Arkle, and that horse was beaten further by Fox Norton in this year’s Schloer Chase. Also undergone a wind-operation recently.
It’s worth remembering that he was sent-off at 2/9 for last year’s Champion Chase, and it was probably only an injury that stopped him winning. That may be a bit harsh on the winner and runner-up Special Tiara and Fox Norton, but Douvan had beaten Fox Norton over 10-lengths in the previous season’s Arkle.
Likeable horse who seems to keep on improving, but has been beaten by both Altior and Douvan in the past. Possibly needs soft ground for his stamina to be brought into play, as he stayed on strongly in the closing stages last year, but could be up against two horses of the highest-class.
Potentially high-class second string for trainer Willie Mullins if anything happens to Douvan, or Douvan is stepped-up in trip. However, there has to be a doubt about his participation, especially as he started his season with a win over further.
Paul Nicholls trained horse who runs in the same colours as former winners Azertioup and One Man and, though this slick-jumping type probably has loads of improvement to come, the form of his races is yet to work out in a way that suggests he’ll be winning a Champion Chase this season.
Won over 2-miles at last year’s Punchestown Festival, and this bold front-runner is a third option for Willie Mullins. May be a sitting duck in the closing stages though if his stamina fades on this testing course.
Last year’s winner will be 11 come March, but Moscow Flyer won his second Champion Chase at that age. However, he could have more opposition for the lead this year, and better horses coming from behind.
Racing needs a clash of the giants and, though the likes of Special Tiara, Fox Norton, Great Field and Politilogue may play their parts, we can only hope that the battle between Altior and Douvan takes place in March. However, with Altior having had an operation, and Douvan backed into odds-on for the Tingle Creek on the back of sparkling homework – it looks like this could be time to back Douvan to win the Champion Chase, with his odds likely to shorten dramatically if he does win the Tingle Creek.