The big race on day 2 of the festival is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and what a contest it’s shaping up to be. The beast that is Altior set for a rematch with his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle rival from 2 years ago, Min. Throw Douvan, last years champion Special Tiara and the Tingle Creek winner Politologue into the mix, it’s an absolute belter of a contest.
Starting with last years victor, the 11-year-old Special Tiara, who hasn’t actually managed to get his head in front since this contest 12 months ago. I love watching this horse run, he sets a relentless gallop and when he’s on song, he’s a brilliant jumper. Because Douvan wasn’t himself in the race 12 months ago I don’t really think Special Tiara got the recognition and praise that he deserved. He won it fair and square and was the best horse on the day, but this does look like a very strong race if the top 3 in the market turn up. He has a bit to find with Altior on their Sandown running and with that one still improving, Henry De Bromheads charge faces a stiff task here. But I think the 16/1 available at the moment is more than fair for the defending champion.
Unbeaten over obstacles, Altior has looked to be in a league of his own. Hardly anything has even got him off the bridle in the past couple of years, but Charbel was in the process of giving him a fright in the Arkle before unfortunately coming down 2 out. That would have been a very interesting finish had he stood up, but it’s likely that Altior would have had his measure. But the fact that his worst (I use that word very loosely for a horse who hasn’t lost in 12 starts) recent run came at the festival does stick in my mind. Something which I found very interesting and I would urge you to read if you haven’t already, is Jamie Lynch’s piece regarding horses coming back from long absences and going to the festival. It doesn’t make for particularly comfortable reading for Altior fans (or Native River fans for that matter), but every angle has to be covered. As a horse racing fan, I love the horse, he’s unbelievably good. However for the purposes of this race, I can’t touch the 8/11.
The horse that may well be a sting in the favourites tail is Douvan. Unbeaten in 13 starts for Willie Mullins before his shock defeat in last seasons Champion Chase, we haven’t seen him since and was said to be out for the whole of this season. But things have changed and there appears to be quite a significant chance that he’ll line up, which would be fascinating. If there’s one thing that I’ll bank on, it’ll be that if he turns up, he’ll be absolutely bang on. Mullins would not run him in this race if there was even doubt that he wasn’t right, so that would be a clue in itself. He won his Arkle in a time just shy of 7 seconds faster than that of Altior, which in lengths terms is roughly 31, which in itself sounds remarkable. That can’t be taken too literally, but when you look at what Douvan beat and see Sizing John in second (4 x Grade 1 winner subsequently, including a Gold Cup) and Fox Norton in third (dual Grade 1 winner since) that to me is far better than Altior’s beating of Cloudy Dream and Ordinary World. Add in the fact that Douvan had a stress fracture to his pelvis and was only beaten 11½ lengths in this race last year, he’s a very special animal. A lot has to be taken on trust given he’s returning from a serious injury, but at the current prices, I’d have Douvan over Altior every time.
Min obviously has a bit to find with Altior on their meeting at the festival in 2016, but I think fences have brought out improvement in the son of Walk In The Park. Whether it’s enough improvement would be in doubt, but I won’t be ruling him out reversing the form, especially given his more favourable preparation for the race. His win at Leopardstown last time out was a top performance and he’s laid down a significant marker. If there are any chinks in Altior and Douvan’s armour, which there could be, he looks extremely solid.
The Tingle Creek winner Politologue is more than worthy of his chance in this line up, albeit he looks to have a seriously uphill battle of reversing the form with Altior following the Game Spirit, but I wasn’t impressed with Politologue’s jumping that day and he can do better. His second to Waiting Patiently last season looks like a strong piece of form along with his JLT fourth, but I think he faces a stiff task.
Aside from those mentioned above, I struggle to see anything else hitting the frame. If Douvan gets there in one piece, then he’ll be the one I’m siding with and the 4/1 available NRNB with bet365 appeals. If he doesn’t make it, then I’ll be backing Min to overturn the form with Altior. The most likely scenario of course is that Altior wins and wins well, as a fan I’d like to see him cement his position as a pure top notcher. But as a punter, I don’t feel there is any value in his price. Special Tiara would be the each way play if anyone was inclined to one.