Finally! First start in Britain for Chacun Pour Soi on biggest stage of all
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) | 2m | 5yo+ | ITV/RTV
It was a case of so close yet so far for connections of Chacun Pour Soi last year, with one of the most exciting jumps horses in training ruled out of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on the day of the race.
He had even cantered at the track that morning but a foot abscess was discovered shortly after and he was oblivious to Politologue storming to victory from the front as he remained in the stable yard, leaving his connections to ponder what might have been.
Barring any similar mishaps on Wednesday morning, owners Rich and Susannah Ricci, trainer Willie Mullins and rider Paul Townend will find out for sure if Chacun Pour Soi is as far clear of his rivals in the two-mile chase division as the bookmakers think, with the nine-year-old odds-on to make it seven wins from nine runs over fences in the feature race of the festival's second day.
"Hopefully there won’t be any last minute hiccups and he will get a chance to prove himself in Britain," said Mullins on Tuesday, a day after two-time Champion Chase winner Altior was scratched from the race.
Beaten just once in seven starts over fences in Ireland, Chacun Pour Soi is rated 5lb superior to closest rival Politologue on official ratings but as Mullins alludes to, he has yet to be tested in Britain and, more crucially, at Cheltenham.
While there is nothing in his physical make up to indicate the track will not suit, many of his rivals have already proved a penchant for the Cheltenham battleground, which does not suit every challenger.
Mullins had to wait 31 years for Al Boum Photo to bring him Gold Cup success in 2019 but, incredibly, Ireland's champion trainer is still searching for a first success in the Champion Chase.
He has saddled 11 runners in the race without success, including Douvan who finished lame when beaten at 2-9 in 2017 and Un De Sceaux who was sent off at 4-6 when beaten by Sprinter Sacre in 2016.
Despite that worrying statistic for favourite backers, the trainer reports Chacun Pour Soi to be at the top of his game and his recent form is certainly hard to knock, having landed a pair of Grade 1s on his most recent runs by a combined 14½ lengths.
"Chacun comes here in great form," said Mullins. "He’s had a great season so far and done nothing wrong. I’ve been very happy with him."
Mullins also saddles last season's Champion Hurdle fourth Cilaos Emery, who is rated 7lb superior over fences than he is over hurdles and looked in rude health when a convincing winner of a Grade 3 at Naas at the end of February.
"Cilaos Emery was impressive at Naas on his first run back after a break and his run in the Champion Hurdle last year gives him a great chance of picking up some nice prize-money," said Mullins. "The fact that there will be no crowds in attendance will suit him as sometimes the atmosphere on a big day can upset him."
'Overlooked' Politologue gunning for repeat bid
Even without Altior and Chacun Pour Soi last year, Politologue was sent off at 6-1 before tearing away with this race and it is nothing new to owner John Hales to see his pride and joy somewhat overlooked in the market as he bids for back-to-back wins.
The Champion Chase has been kind to Hales, who first won the premier race for two-mile chasers with One Man in 1998 before Azertyuiop followed up six years later and Politologue added a third win 12 months ago.
They do not come more reliable than Politologue, who was running at his fifth festival when winning last year and added a fourth Grade 1 to his CV in the Tingle Creek Chase in December.
"He's been totally overlooked," said Hales. "We nearly got to Altior two years ago and last year he could only run against those who turned up. He's very fit and very well and always goes well at this time of year.
"He's a super horse who has won almost £1 million in prize-money and gives you 110 per cent. We'll run our usual normal race and see how we get on."
Hales lives every second of the action when his familiar yellow and red silks are in action and last year's victory took him on an emotional roller coaster.
He will be strapped into his armchair on Wednesday but that is unlikely to make it any easier to watch.
"I've told my wife she can't be in the same room," he said. "I don't want anyone in the room with me and she can go and watch it on another telly in the house.
"I'm more relaxed watching a three-mile race than a two-mile race because of the pace they go, especially at Cheltenham where the competition is razor-sharp. The main thing always is that he comes home safe and sound."
With last year's winning rider Harry Skelton partnering Nube Negra, Harry Cobden rides Politologue for the eighth time in his career and the instructions are simple.
"I'm sorry Harry Skelton won't ride him, he got on with him brilliantly but he's got his brother's horse to ride and I'm sure Harry Cobden won't let us down," said Hales.
"I've told Harry Cobden to keep watching the tape of last year and to duplicate that."
Three from three
Few horses adore Cheltenham as much as Put The Kettle On, who has "come alive" since arriving at the track from her yard in Waterford according to trainer Henry de Bromhead. Unbeaten in three starts over fences at the course, she was a comfortable winner of the Arkle at last season's festival and is also unbeaten in three runs under her big-race rider Aidan Coleman.
What they say
Kim Bailey, trainer of First Flow
I'm delighted with his progress and he seems in the form of his life. It's a question of if he's going to be good enough. It's an unbelievably competitive race and it would be great if he was able to run a big one.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Politologue and Greaneteen
This looks a deeper, stronger race than last year but Politologue seems in good shape and we're very happy with him. The ground was probably deep enough for his liking at Ascot last time and he ran well, but Chacun Pour Soi looks hard to beat. Greaneteen is a bit of a dark horse. He needed the run badly last time and ran a bit free under a 6lb penalty. He's got it all to do but he could run a big race and into a place.
Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Notebook and Put The Kettle On
Put The Kettle On just absolutely loves it over here. She’s come alive since she’s got here and deserves to take her chance. Notebook was very good at Naas earlier on in the season and I don’t think you’ve seen the best of him since for some reason. He seems in good form and has travelled over well.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Nube Negra
It was always the intention to come here fresh and I'm delighted with him. He looks great, has schooled lovely, he's done loads of work and been to Warwick for an away day. The dry forecast is a positive and there are no negatives. Chacun Pour Soi is an outstanding horse and is going to be extraordinarily hard to beat but we've got a young horse on the upgrade and, if you compare Nube Negra to how he was before Kempton at Christmas to now, he's in very similar shape.
Harry Whittington, trainer of Rouge Vif
He had a bit of a break after Kempton, has been in good form of late and is good to go. I was a little bit disappointed that it hadn't dried out to good to soft on Tuesday but another 24 hours is a long time at Cheltenham. Good to soft are his ideal conditions and I can't think there will be any excuses, but it's a tough race and we'd be delighted if he runs his race and finishes in the first or or five.
Alan King, trainer of Sceau Royal
He's had a perfect preparation since the Game Spirit and I couldn't be more pleased with his wellbeing. However, it was hugely disappointing to hear that Cheltenham got far more rain than expected on Sunday night. While I hope to run him, we'll monitor the ground and make a final decision on Wednesday morning.
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