Betting Tip: @ Altior @ 11/10 with bet365
3:30 2m (1m7f199y) (Old Course) Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Last year (horse – trainer – jockey – SP):
1. Special Tiara – H De Bromhead – N Fehily – 11/1
2. Fox Norton – C Tizzard – A Coleman – 7/1
3. Sir Valentino – T George – P Brennan – 33/1
Nature of the race
It’s often said the Champion Chase is the ultimate test of jumping fences at speed, and it’s hard to argue with that. The gallop is generally fast and furious, which leaves no margin for error, and top-class horses don’t tend to get tired over this trip providing they jump well. It’s therefore crucial to find a horse with the basic speed to go the gallop and, in reality, that leaves only four of five genuine contenders. Stayers at the trip tend to struggle to keep up and it’s hard for them to make up the ground on the front-runners.
This is no race for shocks. Since its inception in 1959, the winner has emerged from outside the top three in the betting just tend times and the 13 winners this century have gone off at 5/1 or shorter. Experience counts for plenty and even the relatively lightly-raced pair of Sprinter Sacre and Finian’s Rainbow were winning this having run seven times over fences previously, which has to be a worry for backers of Min, who has just five chase starts under his belt. Eight-year-olds have the best record with 20 victories, eight clear of nine-year-olds.
Festival form over 2m is worth its weight in gold in the 2m division and 10 of the 17 winners this century had already won at the Festival, having taken a previous renewal of the Champion Chase (three), the Arkle (eight) and Grand Annual (one). The previous year’s Arkle winners are 5/9 this century and easy winners of that race tend to take the transition to the highest level in their stride.
Paul Nicholls has the best record, winning it five times, and his representative this time, Politologue, has a similar profile to his last winner, Dodging Bullets. Nicky Henderson has won four renewals, including three of the last six, and his winners had finished 1211 in the Arkle (that’s counting Sprinter Sacre twice), so Altior has the sort of profile you’d expect from an odds-on favourite.
Best of the home challenge
Altior, long touted as the successor to the great Sprinter Sacre for Nicky Henderson, will take his shot at top honours in the 2m division having climbed his way up the ranks with wins in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle Chase on his two previous visits to the Festival. He was favourite for this before he’d even crossed the line in the latter contest and, while it’s far from been plain sailing with him this winter, he was impressive on his belated reappearance in the Game Spirit, when justifying his trainer’s decision to shun the route of least resistance in a racecourse gallop.
UPDATE – Altior was reported lame on Monday but has since been declared fit and ready to go, with his trainer saying what has happened will not impact on his performance at all.
Best of the Irish
Assuming Douvan (not seen since his flop in this race last year) runs in the Ryanair, it leaves the way for stablemate Min to throw down the biggest challenge to the red-hot favourite. That wouldn’t have looked likely at Leopardstown over Christmas when struggling to get past the post in front of Simply Ned and losing the race in the stewards’ room. However, he gained his revenge on that rival in no uncertain terms when returned to that track last month, hitting the front a long way out and bounding clear for a 12 lengths success.
UPDATE – Douvan has been declared for this race after all and that Ruby Walsh is up (he could have ridden Min) tells you something about the way he has been going at home. However, this is surely a huge ask of him and he can’t possibly be considered on the trends.
Others to consider
Politologue was taking advantage of Altior’s absence when landing the Tingle Creek in December and that Sandown race has been a good guide to this, with three of the last five winners going on to be crowned champion. However, he was firmly put in his place by Altior last time and while Paul Nicholls had warned beforehand he wouldn’t be fully tuned up, it’s doubtful the winner was either and he breezed past him.
Indeed, last year’s winner Special Tiara might finish in front of him. Henry de Bromhead’s 11-year-old has failed to add to his account in four tries since, but he showed the fire still burns when fading late behind Min at Leopardstown last time and he surely won’t be far away on what is his fifth attempt at this contest (form figures of 6331).
There’s the potential for one of the rags to hit the frame should one or more of the main contenders to underperform – Douvan is just as likely to pull up than win – and Charbel could outrun his 40/1 price tag. A very good novice last season, he was still in front when falling two out in the Arkle and, while nothing has gone right in two outings this season, the vibes coming out of his stable suggest he’s bouncing and ready to do himself justice.
Best bookmaker offers
Anyone thinking of taking on Altior are steered towards Boylesports as they are refunding losing stakes (as a free bet up to £20) if your horse is 2nd or 3rd to the SP favourite, which applies to any race at the Festival.
It’s two years to the day when ALTIOR and Min last clashed in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the former horse proved much the best on that occasion. He’s since dotted up in an Arkle and, having looked every bit as good as last season at Newbury in February following a wind operation, I’m expecting him to come out on top again. The good news is that we can now back him at odds against – bet365 being one of several firms going 6/5 – and while I wouldn’t blame anyone for putting betting on hold to enjoy the spectacle, he’s a confident pick.
But there is another way to have a financial interest and it is provided by bet365’s ‘without Altior’ market, in which CHARBEL looks a tad overpriced at 22/1 – we are assured of a profit if he finishes fourth as long as Altior finishes ahead of him and we might just hit the jackpot if he comes home in second place behind the favourite.
Betting Tip: @ Altior @ 11/10 with bet365
All odds were correct at time of posting.