The Queen Mother Champion Chase was dominated by one the modern-day great horses at Cheltenham Festival in 2018. Altior made his bow in the event and duly dominated with a brilliant performance, securing his third crown on the bounce at the Festival – all in different races.
Nicky Henderson will put his charge forward again for the title, and it will be difficult for any horse to match his imperious hold over whatever field he comes across. The Irish-bred horse has won 17 races in a row and it will take a special effort to end his dominance.
Willie Mullins unleashed his own potent horse last season in the race in the form of Douvan, who was eyeing redemption at Cheltenham. However, it proved to be another house of horrors for the French-bred horse, who disappointed at the Festival for the second year in a row, falling four fences from the end of the meet.
The Irish-bred horse was far from his best in Champion Chase last season, but still had the closing speed to see out a comfortable win by seven lengths. Nico de Boinville in the saddle had issues in the early stages of the race, although once they were resolved Altior was able to control the meet before turning on the pace when it mattered the most. Horse and jockey were paired together again in the final race of last season in the Celebration Chase where again Henderson’s charge saw out another triumph down the stretch.
Altior was held out of action in the early stages of the current campaign until December. He made his return after almost eight months out. It showed at the Tingle Creek Chase as he made an early mistake, although the nine-year-old was able to recover to claim the victory at Sandown Park ahead of Un De Sceaux by four lengths.
His next outing at the Desert Orchid Chase was a formality as the Irish-bred horse operated at the peak of his powers to canter over the line. Fox Norton posed a threat in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, although a smooth ride saw Henderson’s charge assume his position in the winners’ enclosure for the 17th time in a row. It will take a special performance or an uncharacteristic mistake from Altior to deny him the Champion Chase crown.
Mullins’ charge finished second behind Altior in the Champion Chase last season, providing the challenge that his stable-mate Douvan failed to mount. He was not much of a threat, losing out by seven lengths, although it was still a solid performance. Min’s last campaign ended on a low note when he was beaten out by the smallest of margins by Politologue in the JLT Melling Chase at Aintree before finishing off the pace in the BoyleSports Champion Chase down in fourth.
Like Altior his return for the new campaign was delayed until the beginning of December. He made his bow in the 2018/19 season at the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, and was the favourite for the event ahead of Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love. Ruby Walsh in the saddle found a rhythm with his charge and was able to seamlessly move him through the gears before closing out the win by one-and-a-half lengths.
Min faced off against a limited field in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase. The eight-year-old enjoyed another smooth performance to claim the victory, handing him momentum ahead of Cheltenham. However, Mullins will know the challenge ahead is a daunting one given the experience of the last Festival.
The French-bred horse won all five of his races last season, including his triumph in the Arkle Chase. Mullins’ charge was dominant in the event and finished lengths ahead of his nearest rival. The seven-year-old was able to end his term on a high note at the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown. Footpad completed another brilliant display, cantering away from the rest of the field with Walsh in the saddle, finishing well ahead of his compatriot Optimus Prime.
Footpad was expected to record another comfortable win on his return to action in the new campaign in Naas. However, for only the second time of his career, the French-bred horse fell in the race. His race was littered from mistakes as he struggled for rhythm, and although it was a poor performance he still had a chance at victory. That notion was ended when the seven-year-old fell at the final hurdle.
Footpad returned just after Christmas and his fall did not deter the bookmakers from installing him as the favourite for the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase. In Leopardstown he had rhythm with Walsh in the saddle and looked to be on pace for the win, only to lose out to the speed of Simply Ned down the stretch. The bay gelding’s form this term is a concern, while Walsh will likely favour Min to ride in the event. Therefore a triumph in the Champion Chase would be a surprise.
Colin Tizzard’s charge was within inches of victory in the Champion Chase in 2017, only to be beaten out by a head by Special Tiara on the line. He issued the perfect response by reeling off three wins on the bounce, beginning at the JLT Melling Chase finishing six lengths ahead of the favourite Sub Lieutenant. At Punchestown he was even better, producing a fine performance to claim victory at the BoyleSports Champion Chase, defeating Un De Sceaux to end the 2016/17 season with a flourish.
He began the new season with another victory at the Shloer Chase, although his winning run was ended by Poliltlogue in the Tingle Creek Chase. Fox Norton was one of the horses expected to challenge for the King George VI Chase against favourite Might Bite. However, he pulled up three fences from the end of the race. The French-bred horse suffered an injury that would cost him the rest of the season.
Tizzard’s charge only returned in the Clarence House Chase after over 12 months out and was faced with Altior. He put forward a decent effort, but lost out by seven lengths. After such a lengthy period on the sidelines it would be stunning to see him beat the great horse, although he does have proven calibre at the highest level.
There are talented horses in the field that are capable of mounting a challenge. Against any other horse they may have a strong chance of victory, but this is Altior, one of the finest horses to grace the National Hunt.
He has won his las 17 races on the bounce and it would be shocking if he would not make it 18 when he competes in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Expect Henderson’s charge to defend his crown at odds of 4/91.44-2250.44-2.250.44 with 888Sport.