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Champion Chase 2019 Ante-Post Preview: Ned can hold back the years

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Posted in: Cheltenham Festival Tips

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With the entries for the 2019 Champion Chase now released, we take a long-range look at one of the four championship races at the Cheltenham Festival and give you our best ante-post bet.

The Champion Chase is the feature race on Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival, held on the Wednesday, and it is a contest which has been littered with some top-class performers in recent years, a pattern which is set to continue this time around.


The logical starting point is Altior, last year’s winner, who is already a short price for this year’s renewal, and is aiming to become the fourth multiple winner of the race this century, following in the footsteps of Moscow Flyer, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre.


Unbeaten in 11 starts over fences, Altior has a firm grip on the two mile chasing division, to the point where he is on the verge of hitting the wall at this distance – in that there’s very little more that he can achieve. A six-time Grade 1 winner over fences, Altior sits 8 lb clear of the field on weight-adjusted ratings and has a ‘small p’ attached to his figure, suggesting that he could still have even more to come yet. He is unopposable at this distance, and connections will surely be considering stepping him up in trip next season.


In terms of form, the biggest threat to Altior is last year’s leading novice, Footpad, who won the Arkle at the Festival last season. His performance to win the Arkle was one out of the top drawer, and lined him up as a serious challenger in the two mile division this season, but he has been below par on both starts so far this time round, falling when beaten at Naas in November and finishing second to Simply Ned at Leopardstown last month, and, for all that he showed high-class form on both outings, he has something to prove for win purposes at his current price of 7/1.


Altior sets a daunting standard, something which will prompt several to find other targets, and as such, it is difficult to find an each-way angle. Footpad’s stablemate Min is potentially one of those. He is an old foe of Altior’s, twice being beaten by seven lengths by him at the Festival, including when second in this last year, and whilst he made a winning return in a Grade 1 contest at Punchestown last month, that came over two and a half miles, and he looks likely to head to the Ryanair Chase instead. The same can be said for Un De Sceaux, the 2017 Ryanair Chase winner, who is held on form by Altior and will likely swerve another rematch to remain in the two and a half mile division. Injury denied Fox Norton the chance to run at the Festival last season, and we haven’t seen him since. A two-time Grade 1 winner, he would have place claims if fully tuned up, though he was well beaten on his only meeting with Altior back in February 2017, and he too could head to the Ryanair. Politologue made plenty of hay whilst Altior was out injured in the early months of last season, winning the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase, but he was firmly put in his place upon that rival’s return, and having tried his hand in the King George last time, he’s another who’s likely to head elsewhere.


 

One who’s perhaps more likely to run here is the veteran Simply Ned, who has been masterfully placed by Nicky Richards over the past couple of seasons, winning the last two renewals of the Grade 1 Paddy Power Rewards Chase at Leopardstown, defeating Footpad by half a length most recently last month. He’s produced his best form over in Ireland and is due to head to the Dublin Racing Festival next month, and for all that he’s a 12-year-old he would have excellent place claims if taking his chance, and is a big price to do so currently at around the 33/1 mark. Another golden oldie is God’s Own, another dual Grade 1 winner, who has regularly fallen short at this level. He is also in the veteran stage of his career, and has flourished in slightly calmer waters so far this term, winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November. Ozzie The Oscar was a gallant second behind God’s Own at Exeter, and would surely find this too tricky an assignment.


Last season’s novices Saint Calvados and Sceau Royal were well held when third and fourth respectively behind Altior and Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek last month, but both are still lightly raced in this sphere, and have place claims themselves if building on that run. Petit Mouchoir was another novice from last season, and whilst he showed very smart form at his best, his return over hurdles was a below par one, and his target at the Festival is unclear. Great Field was a high-class novice back in 2016/17, though we haven’t seen much of him since, and his two falls at Cork and Leopardstown last month temper enthusiasm.


An interesting candidate is the Irish raider Castlegrace Paddy, who produced a career best to win the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase at Cork last month. He ran well when fourth in Grade 1 company last time out, and considering his ability to handle testing ground, he is one to consider should conditions oblige. Special Tiara enjoyed his finest hour when winning this back in 2017, though, now a 12-year-old, he’s firmly on the decline. Finally, another worthy of a mention is Philip Kirby’s likeable mare Lady Buttons. She has been splendidly consistent so far this term, winning a listed mares’ chase at Doncaster last month, though this would be far tougher.


In conclusion, it’s difficult to escape the defending champion Altior, who is heavily odds on for this race and should become the fourth multiple winner of the Champion Chase this century. He’s too restrictive a price to recommend him, however, and considering that many of those who are entered are highly likely to head elsewhere, finding an each-way angle becomes tricky. The admirable veteran Simply Ned is one of the more likely candidates to head here, and for all that he’s 12 he has been in the form of his life over the past couple of seasons. At 33/1, he looks worth supporting each-way.


Recommendation:


Back Simply Ned each-way at 33/1 in the Champion Chase 


 

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