Key Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase questions

By Geoffrey Riddle@Louchepunter
Thu 11 Jan 2018

By Geoffrey Riddle

The build-up to the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase stepped up a gear on Thursday when 30 horses were revealed for the former and 44 were pitched in to the latter.

Two-time Festival winners Altior and Douvan headed the entries for the Champion Chase, while last season’s winner Special Tiara was one of a record 17 entries from Ireland.

Un De Sceaux has also been entered to defend his crown in the Ryanair Chase, while Willie Mullins will continue to keep everybody guessing with who will accompany last year's winner with 13 other entries.

Below are the main questions to come out of Thursday’s entries:

Will Altior and Douvan run?

2017 Cheltenham Festival - Champion Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Altior has had wind surgery and is back in training at Seven Barrows (PA)

Come again? We just don’t know. Altior has been penciled in for the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on February 10, but trainer Nicky Henderson has already issued the warning that his Arkle winner could easily turn up on March 14 without a prep run.

Altior is a best-priced 6-4 for the Queen Mother with BetBright, but is Evens with Bet 365 and SkyBet on the basis of Non-Runner No Bet.

Douvan is anything between 3-1 and 8-1 to wrest back his crown off Special Tiara, but connections have stated they still do not exactly know what is wrong with the Rich Ricci-owned eight-year-old.

Willie Mullins Stable Visit - Closutton Douvan's 14-race unbeaten run came to an end at Cheltenham in March (PA)

Mullins experienced a torrid time during the Christmas period with the likes of Faugheen and Djakadam running explicably poorly, but there were several odds-on chances that bit the dust, too.

Mullins is now rattling along at 26% so whatever was affecting some of his runners could well be behind the Closutton stable. With Ricci saying last week that he hoped to get Douvan a run this season it is best to take a watching brief at this stage until the next forfeit stage, which is on February 13.

Multiple winners of the Queen Mother are commonplace – what can we expect from Special Tiara?

Henry De Bromhead still feels that Special Tiara is as good as ever, despite the ten-year-old falling at Kempton in the Desert Orchid Chase during the Christmas period. It was the first time he had fallen in his career and only the second time he had failed to complete a chase.

It was hard to disagree with De Bromhead on the evidence of his third-placed finish behind Fox Norton in the Shloer Chase in November however. It was the third time he had filled that position in that race and was only around 6lbs off his career best at the Festival last March.

Special Tiara is to give the Clarence House Chase at Ascot next week a swerve in favour of a potential run in th Dublin Chase early next month and from there is on to Prestbury Park, where he will bid to become the third dual winner this century.

What of the others?

Min and Politologue vie for second favouritism on account of one being solid if unspectacular and one being seen by many as simply a substitute for Douvan.

Politologue has the look of Dodging Bullets two seasons ago in that he is trained by Paul Nicholls, is in form, and should neither of the big two turn up he is the most likely horse to run his race on the big day.

That said, Politologue has the Game Spirit Chase in his sights and could easily be twice the price after that were Altior to return triumphantly in Berkshire.

Min’s chances of running are almost certainly linked to the fortunes of Douvan over the next few weeks. Min is now 5-1 for the Champion Chase, but was also entered for the Ryanair.

Great Field is a horse that interests many but he, too, has not been seen out yet this season. After what has been described as a small setback by Willie Mullins the seven-year-old is now back in training but that does not put him in a much better position than Altior, or indeed Douvan.

Much like Special Tiara, he loves to bowl along in front, but unlike the reigning champion he is hardly foot perfect out front – not ideal Queen Mother material.

Mullins is actively seeking a slot for the JP McManus-owned gelding so we will have to wait and see where he goes.

Although Un De Sceaux was entered for both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair, it seems highly unlikely that he will run in the shorter contest. Ditto Fox Norton, who is another who is likely to go the longer route despite his entry in both races, while over the next week or so we will see much more clearly where dual entered Yorkhill is likely to go, also - th Champion Hurdle entries are on Wednesday.

You’ve got a free £20 bet on the race, which you must place now. Who do you put it on?

2017 Cheltenham Festival - Ladies Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Special Tiara would become the first back-to-back winner since Master Minded in 2009 (PA)

Of all the Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival the Queen Mother has the murkiest picture. Douvan and Altior make it very difficult to bet on the but Special Tiara has shown that he is not much worse, if at all, than last year at the age off 11.

Special Tiara, Sprinter Sacre and Moscow Flyer have all won the £400,000 contest at double-figure ages and although he is an unlikely repeat winner, at 20-1 with BetBright and 16-1 with Sky Bet Non-Runner No Bet he looks a possible each-way approach in to the race.

If I had to have a straight win bet I think I would still rather gamble that Altior will make it and perform better than Douvan, while Politologue simply looks the safest option.

But who likes playing safe?

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