Confident Mullins hoping 'classy' Chacun Pour Soi up to Champion Chase challenge
Willie Mullins knows the scale of the task facing Chacun Pour Soi when he takes on superstars Altior and Defi Du Seuil in Wednesday's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, but the champion trainer is confident his challenger is capable of coming out on top.
The day two contest is the most eagerly anticipated clash of the Cheltenham Festival with double winner of the race Altior the general 7-4 favourite and Defi Du Seuil a 2-1 shot.
Both are shorter in the market than the Rich Ricci-owned eight-year-old, who is a best-priced 11-4, but Mullins has confidence in Chacun Pour Soi's ability to serve it up to his two better-fancied rivals, one of whom, Defi Du Seuil, he beat by four and a quarter lengths at Punchestown last year.
Mullins, who still has the option of the Ryanair Chase for the Dublin Chase winner, said: "It's going to be a very competitive race with Altior and Defi Du Seuil in the line-up, but we are very happy with our horse.
"All has gone well with him since his win at the Dublin Racing Festival, where he showed how much he had improved from his first start of the season. He's classy and we're hoping he will be up to the task he is facing."
It is no small task. Although Altior's 19-race winning run came to an end earlier this season when upped in trip for a clash with Cyrname, he remains unbeaten over obstacles at trips around two miles.
Then there is Defi Du Seuil, who has built the sort of stellar CV this season that usually screams Champion Chase winner by landing the Shloer, Tingle Creek and Clarence House. The 2017 Triumph Hurdle and last year's JLT Novices' Chase winner bids for a third festival success.
A Plus Tard and Min are expected to run in the Ryanair, but Politologue, Sceau Royal and Hell's Kitchen – the horses who chased Altior home last year – remain while Dynamite Dollars, Bun Doran and Lady Buttons complete the potential field for the feature on what should be a breathless day of top action.
Later that afternoon Mullins will also saddle many punters' idea of the festival's biggest banker, the red-hot Weatherbys Champion Bumper favourite Appreciate It.
The trainer of 65 Cheltenham Festival winners expects to run three in a race he has won a record nine times.
He said: "We were delighted with Appreciate It's win at Leopardstown last time when he won a Grade 2 easily. He has a very high cruising speed which should be a big plus in this race.
"Ferny Hollow earned his place in the line-up when coming good at Fairyhouse on his third start and Five Bar Brian, who won on his first start for us, will take his chance and should be capable of improvement."
There are 15 still in contention for the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase, including Faugheen at the grand age of 12, although plans for him have yet to be finalised.
Mullins will definitely run Allaho in the race, however, and said: "Chasing was always going to be his game and he was very good when winning by a wide margin on his second start over fences.
"Stamina is his forte – his hurdles form last season is proof of that. He can be a bit keen and, hopefully, he'll settle."
It looks a strong day for the Irish challenge as double Grand National winner Tiger Roll bids for a fifth victory at the Cheltenham Festival in the Glenfarclas Chase – a race he has won for the last two years.
"Tiger Roll is in great form and we're looking forward to running him," said trainer Gordon Elliott, who has yet to rule out switching his unbeaten superstar – and last year's Champion Bumper winner – Envoi Allen to the Supreme on day one rather than the day two opener, the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, should Cheltenham experience heavy rain over the weekend.
"I'll be over in Cheltenham and will walk the course to see how the ground is on Saturday night," he added. "We'll keep all options open with our runners and see what happens. Everything is good with Envoi Allen, touch wood."
Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse is expecting the current descriptions of soft on both chase and hurdles tracks and soft, heavy in places on the cross-country course to remain until the meeting kicks off.
He said: "We've had a dry 24 hours but are expecting four or five millimetres Saturday night into Sunday. Temperatures should rise over the weekend into double figures and we've a showery outlook next week, and based on the current forecast I would expect it to start on soft."
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