Cheltenham 2018: Queen Mother Champion Chase Odds and Betting Preview
Day Two’s feature race of the upcoming Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Chase – where the finest equine talents show their jumping skills over the minimum distance of two miles (3,219 meters).
Twelve fences will stand in the way of the contenders for this Grade 1 event and this race is regarded as the Blue Riband for the fastest Chasers on the planet. You can almost guarantee spills, thrills and excitement as this race is ridden at a gallop like no other and is a personal favourite of mine.
Looking at the history of the race, only Badsworth Boy has successfully won the Champion Chase on three occasions (1983-85) which only highlights how difficult it is to be consistent at the minimum distance over fences. Several others have claimed multiple victories in the event, with Moscow Flyer (2003, 2005), Master Minded (2008-09) and Sprinter Sacre (2013, 2016) being the most recent highlights. Last season’s winner, Special Tiara took the spoils in what can be deemed as a surprising result, and while the 11-year-old is likely to defend his crown, his chances look limited due to age.
This year’s race in particular is one for the comeback specialists, with some of the leading contenders hoping to return, or maintain their form from recent injury absences and here are our thoughts on the big race.
The Nicky Henderson trained Altior has long been the ante-post favourite for the Champion Chase, despite having his own fitness issues this season. The eight-year-old is currently available at odds of 6/5 with BetFred to continue his unbeaten run over hurdles and fences to 13 wins.
Altior missed the early part of the season after suffering an injury setback but was thrust back into action by his trainer to contest Newbury’s Grade 2 Game Spirit chase in a do-or-die outlook on this season’s hopes. Altior came through the race in flying colours, and cast aside fellow Champion Chase rival, Politologue by a comfortable four lengths.
Barring injury, jockey Nico de Boinville is expected to take the ride on Altior and the experienced pilot can add to his already impressive record of ten wins without defeat on the horse. Altior has excellent Festival form in the bag already by taking the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2016 and followed it up last year by claiming the Arkle Novices Chase. He looks to be a very solid favourite.
Legendary Irish trainer, Willie Mullins has a potential three-pronged attack for the Champion Chase – but it is highly likely that Un De Sceaux will head for Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, instead of this option. The two main bullets for Mullins to fire will be second season chaser, Min, generally available at 11/4 and former superstar – and recovering animal, Douvan (9/2 with William Hill and MarathonBet).
In a recent interview, Willie Mullins suggested that Min was undefeated so far this season, which in effect is not factually correct. Min was demoted to second place by the stewards despite passing the post in first place for interference in a Grade 1 chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. The race was given to Simply Ned in the stewards’ room, much to Mullins’ ire. The pair locked horns again in early February, with Min exacting revenge in a 12-length victory over Simply Ned with Special Tiara a neck back in third.
Min has undoubtedly shown the best Irish chase form to date this season, but the manner of Altior’s demolition of Min in the Supreme Novices Hurdle back in 2016 would temper my enthusiasm on his chances. He does look to be booked for place money, however.
The real intangible of the race is the mercurial talent that is Douvan. Not seen on the course since last year’s Champion Chase, where the previously unbeaten eight-year-old struggled home in seventh place with an undiscovered injury. Mullins has had a race against time to get the horse back somewhere near fit for Cheltenham, but it still seems highly unlikely in my view that Douvan will take on Altior and company.
Hopefully my hunch is incorrect however, as a fully-fit and firing Douvan would be a fantastic watch to see how he fares against Altior. Douvan still covets a higher rating by the handicapper than his rival but I believe that Mullins will run Min and leave Douvan at home for other challenges ahead such as Aintree and especially, Punchestown.
With just ten entries remaining at the five-day declaration stage and Un De Sceaux likely to opt for the Ryanair, most each-way thieves will be hoping that at least eight runners will take part for the three place pay out from the bookmakers. The horses to focus on for place money come from Paul Nicholls’ Politologue and the Kim Bailey trained, Charbel.
Politologue has been freshened up for a spring campaign by Champion trainer Nicholls and looks to be solid value at 9/1 with bet365 with ¼ odds returned for a top-three finish. Politologue has mopped up three Graded chases over the winter but was ultimately put in his place by Altior last time out. However, that shouldn’t detract punters from having an interest on the likeable grey to finish in the money.
Charbel is a shot in the dark in truth. My main basis for offering up the readily available 25/1 shot for place money is down to his fine run – fell two out when leading – against Altior in the Arkle last season. Charbel has always had plenty of ability – he once finished ahead of Altior in a Punchestown bumper race – and tends to come to hand at this time of year. Provided he is in the same heart as last year at Cheltenham, he could easily out run his large odds, and give some of the leading contenders something to think about.
Altior could have his work cut out to claim his first Champion Chase, but on all evidence shown this season, he looks to be the most likely winner in spite of his short odds. A solid option.
Politologue at the effective odds of 9/4 for a place is also too good to dismiss – especially if Douvan defects before race day. My concern is the race may cut up further so it is likely we wouldn’t get an each-way pay out for three places, if that is the case, then it’s a no bet.
- Altior to Win at 6/5 with BetFred
- Politologue Each-way at 9/1 with bet365 (minimum of eight runners, unless no bet)