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The second day of the Cheltenham Festival features the two-mile Champion Chase, and a potential clash of the titans could be on the agenda for punters as last season’s sparkling Arkle winner Altior could clash with the returning Douvan, and defending champion Special Tiara amongst others in what may be a pulsating contest.


Nicky Henderson’s Altior (8/11, William Hill) is unbeaten over obstacles, which include winning the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle - beating Min - and then posting a perfect 7-7 over fences, which include a defeat of Cloudy Dream in last season’s Arkle, and routing Champion Chase winner Special Tiara in the Celebration Chase at Sandown on his final start of last season.

The brilliant High Chaparral gelding had Tingle Creek winner Politologue in arrears when making a successful return to action following wind surgery in Newbury’s Game Spirit Chase, and likely to be sharper for the outing then he ought to take all the beating here.

Henderson could also send Top Notch (20/1, Ladbrokes) into battle here, but the drop to two miles isn’t certain to prove a positive for the Poliglote gelding who was brushed aside by Waiting Patiently at Ascot in the Ascot Chase.

He had won both previous starts, at Ascot and Taunton, and he was beaten only one length behind Yorkhill in last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase. He’s not entirely without hope, but he would make more appeal over further and this two mile trip and he could go to the Ryanair Chase instead.

Nicky Henderson can win the 2018 Champion Chase.
Nicky Henderson can win the 2018 Champion Chase.
Willie Mullins has been making some noise about the potentially returning Douvan (9/2, William Hill) into the Champion Chase picture, and his top-class chaser was sent off a red-hot favourite in this race twelve months ago.

An early injury sustained in the race put paid to his chances, and he disappointed in finishing a well-beaten seventh; but he remains top-class and if coming back to his earlier form then he would push Altior all the way. 

It would be a tough ask of the Walk In The Park gelding to win a race of this nature on his seasonal bow; while he is still not a certain runner, and Mullins will leave it as late as he can before making a decision on the star’s participation.

If he does turn up and is near his peak, then he will go close.

Douvan could be joined in the field by Min (11/4, Paddy Power) who was beaten by Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle two seasons ago, but has since gone on to win four of his five chase starts.

His sole defeat came at Leopardstown over the Christmas festival where he was first past the post, but subsequently demoted behind Simply Ned who was awarded the race in the stewards’ room.

A half-brother to Douvan, the Walk In The Park gelding slammed the same rival to claim the Grade Two Dublin Chase back at Leopardstown; he can get competitive in this contest, although taking on Altior and potentially Douvan could prove a step too far for the seven year old.

Un De Sceaux (12/1, William Hill) holds an entry for this race,but the Ryanair is the intended target for the Voix Du Nord gelding who will only switch to this race if something befalls Douvan and Min, and neither make the line-up; while Great Field (16/1, BetVictor) if he makes the Festival could give Mullins another powerful contender for the two-mile prize.

The Great Pretender gelding has shown himself to be a very talented performer in racking up a four-timer of wins in Ireland, including the Grade One Ryanair Novices’ Chase, beating Ordinary World by eight lengths despite his saddle slipping which left jockey Jody McGarvey clinging on for dear life.

Like the one facing Douvan, it would be a monster task for him to win this at the first time of asking on his return as well as being his first foray out of novice company; but it has been hard not to have been impressed by him thus far, and if he does make the final line-up then he could be hard to catch at the head of affairs. 

He has won on the back of absences of 484 days and 314 days, so there is hope that he could be up to the job if making his possible return here, although Mullins has intimated that he is likely to miss the Festival and instead target Aintree or Punchestown in order to give the JP McManus-owned chaser more time to get back to fitness.

Yorkhill (16/1, Unibet) meanwhile has blotted his copybook over fences, and a return to hurdling for a crack at the Champion Hurdle looks more likely for last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase winner who beat only one home behind Min last time out.

Despite being 2-2 at this venue, he would face a big task if taking in this contest given his p

American Tom (50/1, BetVictor) hasn’t looked the most natural jumper of fences, and having been beaten the last twice in lesser company he would face a very stiff test if pitching into this race.

Paul Nicholls is no stranger to Champion Chase success, but his Politologue couldn’t live with the returning Altior at Newbury, despite himself coming into the race on the back of a hat-trick which included a Grade One at Sandown.

The Poliglote gelding was beaten four lengths by Nicky Henderson’s star, and with that one likely to prove sharper for the run then the Ditcheat runner is likely to come up short again in this rematch.

Henry de Bromhead’s defending champion Special Tiara (16/1, Unibet) ought to give a good account as he bids to try to retain his crown; but he hasn’t been in the same form as when winning this race last term and he was probably fortunate that Douvan ran below his best.

The Saddler Maker gelding was all out to hold off the late thrust of Fox Norton, where Top Gamble (66/1, Paddy Power) and God’s Own (33/1, Ladbrokes) were both behind along with the injured Douvan.

Brushed aside by Altior at Sandown, he has finished third in both completed starts this term, although he fell behind Politologue at Kempton over Christmas; Min was his latest conquerer at Leopardstown, and while a better surface will be more to his liking, he faces a stiff test to keep hold of his crown.

Henry de Bromhead could also be represented by Ordinary World (50/1, Ladbrokes) who is smart at his best, and the Milan gelding finished third behind Altior in last season’s Arkle.

No match for Great Field subsequently, he has made the frame this term at Naas and Leopardstown; but he disappointed back at the latter venue behind Min, having also come off worst behind that rival over Christmas in the reversed result that gave the win to Simply Ned, when only fourth in the Dublin Chase.

Neither Kerry Lee’s Top Gamble or Tom George’s God’s Own look good enough to win this; while Charbel (25/1, Unibet) might have given Altior a race in last season’s Arkle when falling two out when still going well.

Kim Bailey’s charge however hasn’t run up to form in three subsequent outings, finishing fourth the last twice and that fall may have dented his confidence.

The fragile but talented Ar Mad (33/1, Ladbrokes) has something to find with Politologue on their Tingle Creek run, but Gary Moore’s star is likely to make a bold sight in front with his fearless style of running and jumping. 

A Grade One winner as a novice, beating Bristol De Mai, he has only twice won going this way round - both at Plumpton - and he’s not sure to be suited by this venue.

Brian Ellison could send Forest Bihan into the Champion Chase.
Trainer Brian Ellison.
Forest Bihan
 (33/1, William Hill) meanwhile looked held behind Politologue when that rival fell at Aintree last term, and Brian Ellison’s charge has found the same rival too strong again at Kempton. Subsequently fourth at Doncaster in January, the northern raider faces a tall order to land this contest and a big jolt of improvement would be required.

Gordon Elliott could have several runners in the field, including Doctor Phoenix (33/1, Coral) who would be in search of a hat-trick having won back-to-back races which include a win in Grade Three company at Naas last time.

The Dr Massini gelding ran out a 13-lengths winner, where he also had American Tom, Ball D’arc (50/1, Unibet) and Tell Us More (100/1, William Hill) all beaten behind. Ball D’arc was subsequently found to be lame, so his participation must now be in doubt, but Tell Us More was sent off a big-priced outsider in that race, so his task looks even more huge now, assuming he lines up.

The Game Changer (100/1, Unibet) meanwhile isn’t good enough to win a race like this, and he has been well-beaten in much weaker races than this in the past. The Arcadio gelding is likely to take in an alternate target in any case, with the Grand Annual, County Hurdle and Martin Pipe all possible entries for him.

VERDICT


Even with the potential presence of Douvan in opposition, it is hard to get away from the claims of ALTIOR (8/11, William Hill) to land the Champion Chase, given he produced a scintillating display on his return at Newbury and ought to prove much sharper for the run.

With Douvan having to prove fitness on his own return from a lay-off, he may find Nicky Henderson’s charge too much to handle on his first start back; the Henderson runner will bid to continue the excellent form tie-in of previous season’s Arkle winner going on to win the Champion Chase, and the unbeaten over fences High Chaparral gelding ought to take all the beating here.

Min has the potential to improve, but he’ll need to on the balance of his form, and with Altior having already brushed aside Politologue then defending champion Special Tiara could be worth an each-way saver.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge is winless in four starts since beating Fox Norton to the prize twelve months ago - helped by Douvan’s flop - and the soft ground he has encountered in all three starts, which include when beaten behind Min last time wouldn’t have seen the Saddler Maker gelding produce his best.

A better surface at Cheltenham would help him, and he’s no back number in this contest if getting more suitable ground.

2017 CHAMPION CHASE SELECTION - ALTIOR (8/11, William Hill), Special Tiara (16/1, Unibet)

2018 Champion Chase Star-Rating Guide

Special Tiara parading in-front of the fans after winning the Champion Chase.

Our expert has put together this star-rating guide for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature Championship race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.


Day two’s headline race is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, one of the most famous contests in the sport of horse racing. Some of the best chasers in history have entered the Cheltenham Festival winners’ enclosure after winning this two-mile Grade One and a strong field has assembled to battle it out in this year’s edition.

Our expert has put together this star-rating guide, taking a look at each of the main challengers in details and rating their chances of winning out of five stars.

2018 Champion Chase Star-Rating Guide


ALTIOR - 8/11 Paddy Power

Nicky Henderson’s hopes and dreams for this year’s Cheltenham Festival were hanging by a thread  when he revealed Altior was suffering from a wind problem. The two-time Cheltenham champion had ended last season on top of the chasing ranks and was expected to run roughshod through the competition in 2018. 

A minor operation followed, after which Henderson intimated Altior might not be seen until the Festival. Yet, the eight-year-old’s recovery took less time than first feared and Altior was fit to try and defend his Game Spirit crown at Newbury. 12 months previous, Altior had destroyed his elders with a superb jumping display. His triumph in 2018 was a little less emphatic, but still just as impressive, as Altior brushed off the advances of Politologue after the last as if he were a novice.

Altior is yet to taste defeat over obstacles and both of his visits to the Festival have resulted in comfortable Grade One victories. With question marks surrounding many of his Champion Chase rivals, it seems a tremendous hat-trick of Cheltenham triumphs is there for the taking for Altior.

ALTIOR RATING ⭐ 5 ⭐

Nico De Boinville celebrating with Altior after winning the Arkle.


AR MAD - 33/1 Ladbrokes

When Ar Mad powered to a stunning victory in the 2017 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown – destroying Bristol De Mai by 10 lengths – it seemed British chasing had a new star on it’s hands. Sadly, thanks mainly to a string of injury problems, Gary Moore hasn’t been able to help Ar Mad fulfil his significant potential.

Moore’s eight-year-old made just one appearance last season, fading to finish fourth in the Tingle Creek. He kicked off this season with a poor effort in the Haldon Gold Cup and a fairly uncompetitive return to the Tingle Creek, crossing the line a five-length third. Moore said, when Ar Mad was at the peak of his powers, that the track here at Cheltenham wouldn’t suit him – so it would be a surprise if he even approached the post in Wednesday’s feature race.

AR MAD RATING ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

CHARBEL - 25/1 Coral

For a long way in last year’s Arkle, it looked like Charbel was going to serve it up to Altior like no rival had managed thus far. Kim Bailey’s excitement turned to horror in the blink of an eye, as the front-runner crashed to the turf two from home and his trainer will have been delighted to see Charbel quickly get back to his feet.

That fall clearly affected Charbel’s jumping. He was extremely cautious at Aintree the following month and Bailey even gave his seven-year-old a spin over hurdles at the start of this season, to try and restore some confidence. Charbel hasn’t been seen since finishing fourth in the Tingle Creek and it’s highly doubtful his name will be mentioned in the closing stages of this year’s Champion Chase

CHARBEL RATING ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Charbel (near) trying to stretch Altior (left) in last year's Arkle.


DOCTOR PHOENIX - 33/1 Boylesports

Anyone who saw Dr Phoenix running in handicaps for David Dennis last season wouldn’t have dreamed he would turn into a Champion Chase contender. Yet, since making the switch to Gordon Elliott, the ten-year-old has taken his game to a whole new level. 

After one win from his first three starts in Ireland, Dr Phoenix powered to a tremendous victory in the Dan Moore Handicap, beating a handy field of handicappers by nine lengths. Elliott rewarded his charge with a maiden outing in Graded company and Dr Phoenix rose to the challenge, comfortably seeing off Alisier D’Irelande and potential Cheltenham rival, American Tom by a wide margin. 

With his rating now approaching 160, an appearance in a handicap at Cheltenham is out of the question. Despite his clear improvement, it would still be a huge ask for this likeable ten-year-old to put himself in the frame.

DOCTOR PHOENIX RATING ⭐ 3 ⭐

DOUVAN - 9/2 William Hill

It was instantly evident there was something amiss with Douvan as his unbeatable aura was shattered at Cheltenham last year. That proved to be the case as a pelvic fracture was discovered, but Willie Mullins was confident he would be able to get his top chaser fit in time for next season. 

After a list of potential reappearance dates were cancelled, Mullins almost wrote off the season just before Christmas. However, Douvan’s rehab took a turn for the better and it looks like the Prestbury Park patrons will bear witness to the titanic showdown between Douvan and Altior.

Personally, I would rather Douvan didn’t run at the Festival this year. It would be an incredible piece of training if Mullins had him conditioned to challenge, but it’s hard to see how he can match Altior after a year off the track. At his peak, Douvan would be more than a match for the favourite. But after a season of despair and confusion, he’s very hard to back.

DOUVAN RATING ⭐ 4 ⭐

Ruby Walsh guiding Douvan back to the stables after last season's Champion Chase.


GOD'S OWN - 33/1 Ladbrokes

God’s Own has been a fantastic servant for Tom George, but it seems the ten-year-old’s powers are starting to wane. He’s yet to win in eight starts since that famous victory over Vautour at Punchestown in 2016 and he’s looked well below par on both his outings in lesser contests this season.

A rating of 158 means the handicaps are still out of reach for God’s Own and Tom George has little choice but to enter him into the Champion Chase. He showed glimpses of his old sparkle when finishing a two-length third on his return to the Punchestown Festival, but the ten-year-old has shown no form since and is only entered to make up the numbers.

GOD’S OWN RATING ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

GREAT FIELD - 16/1 Boylesports

Like stablemate Douvan, Great Field has had to spend the entire season on the sidelines, thanks to a serious of niggling injury problems. Willie Mullins’ charge is unbeaten over fences. His jumping got better and better with every outing last year and rounded off a sparkling novice campaign with a superb victory at the Punchestown Festival.

I was really looking forward to seeing what Great Field could achieve outside novice company. It would be brilliant to see him make an appearance at Cheltenham, but there’s been little noise coming out of the Mullins’ camp with regards to Great Field and it would be quite surprising if he even made the final entries for this illustrious race. 

GREAT FIELD RATING ⭐ 3 ⭐

Min producing a wonderful leap during his victory at the Dublin Racing Festival.


MIN - 11/4 Paddy Power

Min returned with a bang on his first start of the new season, cruising to a routine victory on his first crack at two-and-a-half miles. Much of the same was expected as Mullins’ seven-year-old carried a short price into the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, but Min struggled for much of the 17 furlong trip. It took some serious interference for Paul Townend’s mount to pass the post ahead of Simply Ned and the result was rightly overturned in the steward’s room.

Willie then decided to pit Min’s wits against stablemate Yorkhill at the Dublin Racing Festival, with many expecting a nail-biting battle. In the end, it was a non-contest, as Min produced a superb jumping display and romped clear to claim a lengthy Grade One victory.

Wednesday’s feature race will see Min and Altior lock horns for the first time since that memorable Supreme in 2016, where Min had to settle for second best. You could argue Min has improved since then, but Altior has shown much more progression and it’s hard to see how Willie Mullins’ chaser can turn the tables.

MIN RATING ⭐ 4.5 ⭐

POLITOLOGUE - 10/1 Paddy Power

In Altior’s absence, Politologue rose to the top end of the two-mile chasing ranks in Britain. Paul Nicholls’ charge produced an excellent display to deny Fox Norton in the Tingle Creek, before scoring a routine victory in the Desert Orchid Chase when faced with little in the way of competition.

Despite the Queen Mother favourite not stepping foot on a racetrack for almost 300 days, Politologue was given little to no chance in the Game Spirit. Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount tried valiantly to put Altior under pressure, but the seven-year-old was powerless to deny the favourite. Politologue is a fine horse, but he’s not Champion Chase calibre.

POLITOLOGUE RATING ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Noeal Fehily salutes the crown after winning the Champion Chase with Special Tiara (right).


SPECIAL TIARA - 16/1 BetVictor

As Douvan faltered on the big stage, Noel Fehily and Special Tiara were there to pick up the pieces, holding off the charging Fox Norton to claim a famous victory in the Queen Mother. Henry De Bromhead’s star then clashed with Altior on his final outing of the season at Sandown, but was left languishing behind the Arkle winner, as Nicky Henderson’s charge claimed a comfortable victory.

Considering his dislike of deep ground, Special Tiara’s third in the Shloer Chase wasn’t a bad result. A tumble in the Desert Orchid followed, but De Bromhead’s eleven-year-old bounced back well at the Dublin Racing Festival to claim a share of the place-pot. Special Tiara will be greeted with a rousing reception as he attempts to regain his Champion Chase crown, but on seasonal form, a place is the best the returning king can hope for.

SPECIAL TIARA RATING ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Full Champion Chase Ratings


⭐ ALTIOR - 5 ⭐
*
MIN - 4.5
*
DOUVAN - 4
*
POLITOLOGUE - 3.5
SPECIAL TIARA - 3.5
*
GREAT FIELD - 3
DOCTOR PHOENIX - 3
*
AR MAD - 2.5
CHARBEL - 2.5
GOD'S OWN - 2.5

The Queen Mother Champion Chase (3:20pm) is a Class A Grade 1 chase run over two miles.  

It’s the feature race on the second day of the Festival and traditionally, the race has fewer entrants than the other Grade 1 events, but it certainly doesn’t suffer as a result. In fact, for many, this is the most exciting race of the four days as it provides the thrilling spectacle of the best two mile chasers flying the Cheltenham fences at break neck speed.  The event has produced some great winners and some great Festival memories, including some of the most incredible finishes in the history of the sport.

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