Last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase was billed as the hottest race of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, but last-minute lameness ruled both dual winner Altior and Chacun Pour Soi out. From a much-anticipated clash to a depleted field and, even then, the favourite Defi Du Seuil didn’t fire.
There weren’t many horse racing tipsters backing up Politologue’s claims, who had never previously won a race at Cheltenham. Yet he profited from those high-profile absences and Defi Du Seuil’s failure to deliver by making all and causing something of an upset.
Winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase is one thing and then retaining it is quite another. Between now and the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, there are going to be some key races that will shape the landscape of the two-mile National Hunt steeplechase division, so let’s take a look at them.
Desert Orchid Chase
Kempton Park, a right-handed and flat course, may not at first glance seem an obvious place for a Champion Chase trial. This year it could well be, however, as Altior is set to make his much-anticipated return to action in the Desert Orchid Chase.
Rising 11 years old, Nicky Henderson’s beloved veteran has already had a magnificent career. Altior may not have things all his own way, though, because of Irish raider Put The Kettle On. A mare trained by Henry De Bromhead, she has won all three of her British starts which have come at Cheltenham.
Put The Kettle On is much younger than Altior and he will have to give her weight. There have been occasions when Altior has just jumped out to his left at right-handed tracks too, which may put him at a disadvantage, so this promises to be a fascinating clash.
Clarence House Chase
The last Grade 1 two-mile chase in Britain before Cheltenham is the Clarence House at Ascot in January. That is where Politologue is pencilled in to run next with trainer Paul Nicholls believing he now has found the key to this popular grey. Keeping him fresh between runs seems to bring the best out of him.
Politologue has twice benefitted from avoiding Altior in 2020 after Henderson pulled him out of the Tingle Creek at Sandown too. That race had some potential young improvers in it. Politologue turned them all away, however, and perhaps deserves more respect than he gets for doing it.
In Ireland come early February, the Dublin Chase during the eponymous Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown will be a likely last prep run for Chacun Pour Soi before Cheltenham. He has already proved his well-being with an easy success in the Hilly Way at Cork.
Many experts believe Chacun Pour Soi is a favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 2021 with good reason. This is despite that success in that particular Festival feature has eluded trainer Willie Mullins.
Game Spirit Chase
Newbury’s Super Saturday card in mid-February is the last chance saloon territory for trainers to get their racehorses ready for Cheltenham the following month. Altior has won the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase run on this day in each of the last three years when it has been held.
Henderson is a creature of habit when it comes to preparing horses for their major targets, so it would be no surprise to see Altior take this race en route to the Festival again. Chances are we will see the Champion Chase winner come out of one or other of these four events.