Altior v Douvan: all you need to know about the momentous Champion clash
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase | 2m | Grade 1 | ITV/RUK
There has been something of a pantomime feel to this season's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – and with Altior having spent Monday with his troubled foot in a poultice, the red-hot favourite has been playing the role of Puss in Boots.
It has been an eventful few months for last season's outstanding novice, who has been restricted to one run having undergone a breathing operation in November.
The single start yielded a hugely encouraging success in Newbury's Game Spirit Chase, but just as Altior's problems seemed over, another emerged on Monday when he was found to be lame with pus in the frog of his near-fore foot.
That caused trainer Nicky Henderson some serious late stress, but all is now well with Nico de Boinville's mount, who bids to supplement festival wins in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Racing Post Arkle Chase.
"It wasn't much fun, I can tell you," said Henderson on Tuesday. "Yesterday was a day from hell, although that was for about 99 different reasons, of which the Altior situation was only one."
Giving a positive bulletin, he added: "He's fine and was 100 per cent sound this morning.
"It won't impact on his performance in any way whatsoever, unless it goes backwards again. We put a shoe on him today at 6am and he was 100 per cent sound. He had the routine exercise he'd normally have had. He's fit and hasn't missed any work.
"The only thing that changed is he went on the water treadmill on Monday instead of cantering, but if that was going to make any difference he wouldn't be winning anyway."
One thing that does somewhat trouble Henderson is the testing ground.
"The conditions are definitely not a positive," he said. "We've always thought he's a better horse on better ground. Having said that, he has won the last two Game Spirits on very soft ground at a time when we had massive concerns and took him to Newbury only because he had to have a run."
Will Douvan delight after hokey-cokey countdown?
If Altior has been the Champion Chase's pantomime horse, Douvan has been doing the hokey-cokey.
In late December he was ruled out for the season with trainer Willie Mullins saying he would take "a conservative approach" to the horse's recovery from the pelvic injury he sustained when a well beaten 2-9 favourite in last year's Champion Chase.
As winter progressed Douvan came back into the Champion Chase picture, so much so he almost ran at Gowran in February.
Then, to widespread shock it was announced on Sunday he was more likely to contest the Ryanair Chase. By Monday the Champion Chase had again become the target and he was declared for the race – although on Tuesday morning he was also declared for the Ryanair.
It has been a story of in, out, in, out (plus a further in) with Douvan's odds shaken all about – and all the time, waiting in the wings, has been stablemate Min, also owned by Rich Ricci, who greatly impressed at the Dublin Racing Festival.
With Ruby Walsh electing to stick with Douvan, Paul Townend takes the mount on Min.
Walsh told RTE: "I don't think Min has as much chance of beating Altior. Douvan at his very best could.
"Is he at his very best? We don't know because we haven’t run him this year. I think he's in good form at home. I like the way he looks – there's plenty of bounce and spark about him.
"I always thought he was a talented horse. It would be great if he could bounce out here and go and beat Altior."
Ground set to trouble Tiara
Special Tiara is a big outsider to win the 2018 Champion Chase despite going into the race as reigning title-holder.
This time, though, the testing ground is completely against the wonderfully enthusiastic front-runner, who will surely lead for much of the contest but probably for not as much of the contest as on this day in 2017.
Trainer Henry de Bromhead, who also saddles rank outsider Ordinary World, said: "Unfortunately the ground has gone against Special Tiara, which is such a pity.
"He was brilliant in the race last year and I thought he ran so well at Leopardstown behind Min. If the ground had been good I'd have given him a big chance of reversing that form, but it's going to be tough for him now."
He added: "Ordinary World would have had a lot of weight in the Grand Annual, so we're coming here instead."
Echoes of One Man as Politologue chases Champion honours
It is now 20 years since a dashing grey carried the yellow silks of John Hales to one of the most popular victories in Champion Chase history.
The hero of that hour was the magnificent One Man, and although the owner's latest grey (more white, really) warrior could not claim to be anywhere near as talented, he is extremely smart and already boasts three major wins this term, including the Tingle Creek.
"He is what he is, a good solid horse who's done well but now has it all to do," said Nicholls.
"He'll come on a bit for his run against Altior, but he was a fit horse and I'd no excuses at Newbury, where he was beat fair and square.
"Altior will be hard to beat again if he's at the top of his game, but it is a different track and different day and you never know."
Charbel has second crack at toppling Altior
They will never know what would have happened 12 months ago, but if they perceive there was a wrong it could conceivably be righted when Charbel contests the Champion Chase.
There was absolutely no certainty Altior would have defeated Charbel in the 2017 Racing Post Arkle Chase had David Bass's mount not crashed out at the penultimate fence. On that occasion he was a 9-1 shot. He reopposes Altior as a big outsider.
"Realistically we're hoping for him to run into a place in this company; anything else would be great."
George hopes spring can revive God's Own
God's Own is no stranger to the Champion Chase and now has his third crack at winning a race in which he has finished fourth and fifth.
"We're concerned about the testing ground for him," said trainer Tom George.
"He threw away his chance in the race last year with a couple of jumping errors. He's a good horse on his day, though, and this is his time of year."
Not mad to see Mad being placed
Gary Moore knows how it feels to win the Champion Chase having famously landed the prize with the much-loved Sire De Grugy in 2014. In the season in which his long-time stable star was retired he seeks to win it again, son Josh seeking a first festival triumph on the front-runner, who sports cheekpieces for the first time.
"I think he has a decent each-way chance," said Gary Moore.
"We couldn't get a prep run into him but he's been ready to run for a while. He's going to get his ground and I really could see him getting into the places."
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