2020 Champion Chase ante-post preview – The one to beat, the big danger and the dark horse in Ladies’ Day highlight
Our expert casts his eye through the early betting for the feature championship race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday 11th March, picking out who he feels is the one to beat, the big danger and an overlooked dark horse.
For the second year on the bounce, there was a split second where I, and many other racing fans, genuinely thought, “Altior is going to get beaten here”. Yet, Nicky Henderson’s all-conquering chaser refused to bow to defeat, stretching out his neck after being passed by Sceau Royal before holding Politologue at arm’s length on the run to the line to successfully defend his crown.
Considering he’s currently on a record-breaking unbeaten streak of 19 consecutive races over jumps, you’d expect Altior to be extremely short at the head of the ante-post betting for the 2020 Champion Chase. Yet, plans to step the four-time Cheltenham Festival winner up in trip during the first half of the campaign leave the ante-post market for day two’s feature looking decidedly open. Here’s our early guide to the 2020 Champion Chase.
2020 Champion Chase Ante-Post Tips
THE ONE TO BEAT
All the talk during the off-season has surrounded ALTIOR’S route towards a stunning tilt at the 2019 King George VI Chase. Nicky Henderson plans to take in the 1965 Christy Chase at Ascot enroute to that historic three-miler at Kempton and it will be intriguing to see how Altior fares during the second half of 2019.
Whether he takes to three miles or not, I don’t think the Gold Cup will come into the team’s consideration. With an appearance in the Ryanair highly unlikely, I’d be surprised if Altior didn’t return to two miles by the time the Cheltenham Festival rolls around.
His jumping may never be blemish free. He may not travel with the style of a Sprinter Sacre or a Kauto Star. Yet, there’s no denying Altior is bundles of ability, tons of class and, most importantly, the heart of the bravest lion on the Serengeti. Along with Tiger Roll, Altior is National Hunt racing’s poster boy and he’ll be the one they all have to beat as he bids for a hat-trick of Champion Chase’s.
THE BIG DANGER
t may surprise some of you to read this, but Willie Mullins has never won the Champion Chase. Despite a raft of Grade One winning two milers in his rank in recent years – with the names of Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Min leaping off the page – it will irk Ireland’s Champion Trainer that hasn’t really threatened to win Wednesday’s Championship race.
Min, who bounced back from defeat at Cheltenham with a sparkling victory at Aintree, will probably head to the Ryanair, a race Footpad was rerouted to last term. Douvan remains in training and has to be mentioned, as does surprise Arkle winner, Duc Des Genievres. However, the one to lead Mullins’ assault on the 2020 Champion Chase could be CHACUN POUR SOI.
Willie Mullins’ charge entered the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown with a solitary outing on Irish soil under his belt. I was keen to take Duc Des Genievres on, as I felt he was the fortunate winner of a very messy Arkle, so I wasn’t surprised to see Paul Townend’s mount fail to land a blow.
As Defi Du Seuil took aim at Chacun Pour Soi, who had made a couple of errors before hitting the front three from home, I expected Philip Hobbs’ charge to pounce, like he had done to win his two previous Grade Ones. Yet, the British raider was unable to lay a glove on Chacun Pour Soi, who cruised to a comfortable Grade One victory at the first time of asking.
The world is Chacun Pour Soi’s oyster looking ahead to 2019/20. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mullins step his French recruit up in trip as the season progresses, but the Champion Chase could well be his seasonal goal.
THE DARK HORSE
If we were to endure a dry build-up to Cheltenham and the ground was to come up on the good side, then I firmly believe Le Richebourg has the speed and scope to hang with the best over two miles. Dynamite Dollars was progressing beautifully before injury ended his novice campaign prematurely and Paul Nicholls’ record in Championship chases means no contender of his can be overlooked lightly.
Both catch the eye, but there’s a proven Grade One winner sitting at an exceptionally long price who, considering what he achieved during his novice chasing campaign, warrants plenty of attention, and that’s Henry De Bromhead’s ORNUA.
Although he eventually came up short, Ornua’s performance in the Henry VIII really stood out for me last season. I was expecting De Bromhead’s chaser to struggle on the soft ground at Sandown, having shown a clear liking for good going throughout his career. Yet, Ornua led them along at break-neck speed and was simply outstayed by the durable Dynamite Dollars on the run to the line.
As with any exuberant front-runner, disaster and self-destruction lies just around the corner if things don’t go to plan. Ornua fell early in the Arkle and was swallowed up by the field at Punchestown after an error-strewn display. When he managed to put everything together at Aintree, Ornua proved far too strong for his rivals in the Maghull Novices’ Chase, comfortably seeing off Us And Them and Destrier to secure a first Grade One over fences.
De Bromhead only has to look to his former flag-bearer, the recently retired Special Tiara, to see what kind of career Ornua can enjoy. Special Tiara was never the most talented horse in the field, but he was strong enough on the front end to finish third in two Champion Chases and even win the big one when Douvan flopped in 2017. Ornua could enjoy similar success to his enigmatic former stablemate when he embarks on his second season over the larger obstacles.