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Two-mile to 2m4f Chasers
Normally, when I give someone a rating of 178 - which happens once every two or three years - the performance that earned them the rating is characterised by high style marks.
Enter Altior in the 2018 Queen Mother Champion Chase. The Evens favourite was off the bridle as early as the eighth to hold his place, and it took a bit of persuasion from jockey Nico De Boinville to keep him motivated. He found much more than Min from between the last two fences, though, and won going away.
That was the performance of a horse who's either ungenuine, or struggling for pace. Assuming that he was struggling for pace - let's be kind about it - Altior should be going up in trip in 2018/19. Offers of around 14/1 for the Ryanair Chase are attractive, 50/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup tempting; but 7/4 for the next Queen Mother, you can keep it.
The reason why I rated Altior's Queen Mother-win 178 was Min running to his season's best, before finding little when push came to shove. He had traded blows with Simply Ned at Leopardstown over Christmas - a close decision reversed in the latter's favour in the stewards' room - before putting his rival in his place in the inaugural Coral Dublin Chase in February, not shaken up till after the last and running his best to date. The way I read it he matched that level at Cheltenham, but arguably shirked the issue after travelling much stronger than Altior. He's a contender again, though, if sticking to two miles.
Willie Mullins holds a good hand in the 2019 Queen Mother. The free-going Footpad, impressive in three starts over fences including the Grade 1 two-mile novice events at Leopardstown over Christmas and in February, faced only four rivals in the 2018 Arkle Chase at the Festival, but disposed of them with plenty to spare. He blundered at the sixth, but, having allowed Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados to cut each other's throats up front, readily closed on them at the top of the hill and wasn't troubled to go clear between the last two.
Having followed up at Punchestown in similarly easy fashion with a defeat of Optimus Prime in the Grade 1 novice there, Footpad went into the Summer unbeaten in five chases. You can understand why many folk already think that the next Queen Mother Champion Chase is his for the taking, but I'm still a bit worried about his keenness and the likelihood of him making a bad error. At around 9/2 towards the end of August, he's plenty short enough.
Those looking for an each-way alternative could be tempted by Great Field, but the problems with him are manifold. For a start, a setback restricted this front-runner to just the one outing last season, which was the week after the Cheltenham Festival, and he didn't run at Punchestown subsequently. This means that, if he makes it to the track in the new season, it remains the case that his only experience of Cheltenham is a pulled-up in the 2016 County Hurdle, having pulled hard.
Connections were reportedly pleased with his win in the two-mile Webster Cup at Navan on March 23rd, Great Field more settled in the preliminaries and on the track, and he seemed overpriced for the Queen Mother at a general 25/1 over the Summer.
Fox Norton, on the other hand, very much ticks the Cheltenham box. In seven runs at the track up to the end of the 2017/18 season, he's not out of the first three and has won four times. He's been placed in two Queen Mother Champion Chases and ran Special Tiara to a head in the 2017 renewal. Not seen again in 2017/18 after pulling up in the King George at Kempton - hopefully connections won't run him over three miles again - at prices available during August, he was a better-value 25/1-chance than Great Field for the next Queen Mother.
Back to Min, whose stamina perhaps maxed out in the Melling Chase at Aintree on his first start after the Queen Mother. He took on a proper two-and-a-half miler in Politologue, who'd arguably got away with it over around the minimum trip when winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, the Tingle Creek at Sandown (rated 168 by me) and the Desert Orchid at Kempton. There were similarities to Cheltenham in that Min moved the stronger, but found less having led narrowly over the last this time, as Politologue reversed the Queen Mother form (second and fourth to Altior at Cheltenham).
Politologue is a Ryanair Chase-candidate - or would be, but for his record at Cheltenham up to the end of the 2017/18 season, which consists of three double-digit defeats and an unseat from four outings at the track. His best chance of a Grade 1, as proved the case in 2017/18, will be the Melling, and that could leave the way clear in the next Ryanair for another Balko Des Flos - Un De Sceaux-finish.
Un De Sceaux did little wrong in the 2018 Ryanair, but 2017 Galway Plate-winner Balko Des Flos looked potentially top class when running a close second to Road To Respect over three miles in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, and the only thing that made it a surprise that he won the Ryanair was the betting - he deserved to be shorter than the 8/1 that he started, and he was longer than that in the morning. Un De Sceaux showed that he can take a bit of racing when winning at both Fairyhouse and Punchestown after Cheltenham.
From the latest crop of novices, I'm throwing Terrefort in the Ryanair mix. He looked genuine in winning the Scilly Isles at Sandown and the Mildmay Novices' at Aintree, stepping up to three miles and a furlong to beat Ms Parfois, but that'll be as far as he wants to go and I think he'll prove best at two and a half. If you like him though, you have to throw the mare Shattered Love into the melting pot as well. She beat Terrefort in the JLT at the latest Cheltenham Festival, asked for her effort going to two out, leading approaching the last and, after initially idling up the hill, staying on well in the last 150 yards.
One who was campaigned over three miles at the festivals, but would definitely be better over two and a half, is Monalee. Having defeated Al Boum Photo at Leopardstown, he took his chance in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, but was easy meat for Presenting Percy after racing a bit keenly early, no extra when the winner went on at the second last. The Growise Champion Novice at Punchestown went largely the same way till he fell two out, keen early again, but still challenging for the lead when coming down. The Growise was one of the strongest novice chases of the season (at least until it went to pieces at the last two fences), and I can see Monalee being a contender for Grade 1 chases dropped in trip.
If the 2019 Queen Mother Champion Chase was tomorrow, who are the first four?
If the 2019 Ryanair Chase was tomorrow, who are the first four?
Un De Sceaux
Balko Des Flos
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