THERE have been some stunning performances in the Betway Champion Chase (3.30pm) over the years.
Master Minded’s 19-length success in 2008 was astonishing, while Sprinter Sacre won by exactly the same huge margin in 2013.
If any jump racing fan was to name a memorable moment in recent times, it would surely be Sprinter Sacre’s second victory two years ago, having been on the verge of retirement following serious heart problems.
There is something quite magical about the best two mile chasers scooting round Prestbury Park, and even though the ground isn’t ideal, we should be in for a real treat this afternoon.
At the start of the season, the main hope for this race would have been the big match-up between ALTIOR and Douvan.
Well, they are both here, but it has been far from plain sailing for Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins.
Douvan was sent off 2/9 for this race 12 months ago and it was one of the biggest shocks in recent Festival history when he was beaten.
He had excuses as he suffered a small stress fracture, but then he was found to be lame when being trained for the Tingle Creek in December.
The fact he is even running in this indicates that Mullins is happy with him, while Ruby Walsh has picked him over stablemate MIN which might be a tip in itself.
However, I think Walsh knows Min can’t beat Altior on the form from the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle a couple of years ago, whereas a top form Douvan could.
You have to be worried about Douvan’s absence, though. Mullins revealed a few weeks ago he hadn’t even jumped a fence since his setback in December, so he has had a far from perfect preparation.
If there is one horse at the head of the market who is likely to bomb out, it is surely Douvan and for that reason I’m going to leave him out of my three at 11/4 with Coral.
Min is a really likeable horse who is effectively unbeaten over fences – his only defeat coming in the Leopardstown stewards’ room at Christmas.
Admittedly, he doesn’t quite have the wow factor of Altior or Douvan, but he is very good and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t hit the frame at a general 3/1.
Altior has that special something you look for in a two mile chaser.
He has a brilliant cruising speed, travelling with ease throughout his races, and his jumping is excellent.
Henderson hasn’t had the clear run with him that he would have wanted this season, and he must have been panicking on Monday when the horse pulled out lame.
That was nothing more than a scare, though, so as long as he doesn’t bounce after his reappearance win at Newbury last month, he is the one they all have to beat at 5/4 with Paddy Power.
Politologue has had a good campaign and will be the obvious one to pick up the place pieces if Douvan disappoints.
However, he was firmly put in his place in the Betfair Exchange Chase by Altior and I would rather find one at a massive price that could nick third.
That horse could well be Kim Bailey’s CHARBEL at a massive 40/1 with Ladbrokes.
He was running such a huge race in last year’s Arkle when coming down two out.
I’m not saying he would have beaten Altior that day, although he almost certainly would have finished second and he’s only run twice since then.
A defeat in the Elite Hurdle on his reappearance can be forgiven, while he ran better than his finishing position in the Tingle Creek.
He was a good fifth in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, so he clearly goes well at Cheltenham and if one of the market principles disappoints I can easily see him staying up the hill to claim some decent prize money.
The ground has gone against last year’s winner Special Tiara, which is a shame because he would have been a strong each-way fancy on decent ground.
Ar Mad will be sporting first-time cheekpieces and his aggressive jumping style could make this even more interesting.
The worry is that he jumped badly at Sandown last time and this will be his first time at Cheltenham.
Ultimately, this is Altior’s race to lose. Henderson has trained some brilliant chasers over the years and this one looks ready to step into Sprinter Sacre’s hoofprints.
BILL ESDAILE’S CHAMPION CHASE 1-2-3