Dual winner Altior heads 31 Queen Mother Champion Chase entries for the two-miler chasers’ championship contest and the highlight of day two at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday, 11 March.
The Patricia Pugh owned 10-year-old was awesome when landing the 2018 running by seven lengths from Min.
Altior then powered home on the run-in last year to defend his crown beating Politologue by 1 3/4 lengths despite looking in trouble.
If successful again in 2020, he would become only the second three-time Champion Chase winner after Badsworth Boy, who triumphed in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Altior is currently ante post favourite with the vast majority of bookmakers despite a difficult season.
Nicky Henderson’s stable star is a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner, having also landed the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and the Arkle as a novice chaser the following year.
He went on to break the record of the great Big Buck’s by winning 19 consecutive jumps races between October 2015 and April 2019. Ten of those came at the highest level.
However, Altior was beaten by Cyrname on his sole start this season at Ascot when stepped up to 2m 5f in the Grade 2 1965 Chase and has subsequently been ruled out of two intended engagements.
He is now set to have his prep run in next month’s Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. That contest, which Altior has won twice before, will reveal whether he remains the force of old.
Seven Barrows handler Henderson also made an entry for Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup victor Janika, meanwhile.
He is the joint-most successful handler ever in the Queen Mother Champion Chase alongside the late Tom Dreaper with six victories.
Cyrname among six entries for champion trainer Nicholls
Altior’s Ascor conqueror Cyrname has subsequently finished well-beaten second when stepped up to 3m for the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
He is also yet to run at Cheltenham having shown a preference for right-handed tracks.
Cyrname hails from the yard of 11-times champion jump trainer Nicholls, who is bidding for a record-equalling sixth Queen Mother Champion Chase success and has six entries in total.
In addition to Cyrname and last year’s runner-up Politologue, the Dicheat handler has also entered Dynamite Dollars – who won four of his five starts in 2018-19 including the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase – Capeland, Diego Du Charmil and Magic Saint.
A trainer chasing a first Champion Chase success is Cheltenham local Tom George.
The Gloucestershire handler has had three horses finish third in recent years. They were Module in 2014, Sir Valentino in 2017 and God’s Own occupying the same spot behind Altior in 2018.
This year George has entered Bun Doran, who recorded his biggest career victory last time out in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton when defeating last season’s Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres.
The nine-year-old also has good course form at Cheltenham, winning a two-mile handicap chase under top-weight at The November Meeting in 2018.
Bun Doaran also finished second under 11st 7lb in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase at last year’s Festival, so he may have a better chance than the big price suggests.
Defi Du Seuil vying for favouritism
Philip Hobbs’ stable star Defi du Seuil, who has twice been successful at the Cheltenham Festival with victories in the 2017 Triumph Hurdle and 2019 JLT Novices’ Chase, is currently battling for outright Queen Mother Champion Chase favouritism with Altior.
The JP McManus owned seven-year-old has won both his starts this season in fine style, landing the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at the home of jumps racing before following up with a game success over Un De Sceaux in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown.
Defi Du Seuil also holds an entry in the Ryanair Chase over 2m 4f but – if successful in his next intended outing in the Clarence House at Ascot – connections will surely keep him to 2m and have a crack at this.
There are 13 Irish trained Champion Chase entries, including seven from the Closutton stables of Willie Mullins.
The pick of his runners is Chacun Pour Soi, runner-up to A Plus Tard in a Grade 1 contest at Leopardstown over Christmas, who remains lightly-raced over fences.
Mullins stable companion Cilaos Emery is a similar type, though, and has been very progressive since sent chasing.
While Gordon Elliott only has Limerick Grade 1 novice chase winner Hardline, another Irish trainer Henry De Bromhead made four Champion Chase entries.
A Plus Tard, a previous Cheltenham Festival winner, heads those. He took his form to a new level with that Leopardstown success.
Bar those leading contenders, double figure prices and odds are available about the rest of the Champion Chase field. This is listed in full below.
Full 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase entries
- A Plus Tard (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Altior (Nicky Henderson)
- Bun Doran (Tom George)
- Capeland (Paul Nicholls)
- Castlegrace (Paddy Fahy, IRE)
- Chacun Pour Soi (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Cilaos Emery (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Cyrname (Paul Nicholls)
- Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs)
- Diego Du Charmil (Paul Nicholls)
- Douvan (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Duc Des Genievres (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Dynamite Dollars (Paul Nicholls)
- Footpad (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Fox Norton (Colin Tizzard)
- Hardline (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Hell’s Kitchen (Harry Fry)
- Janika (Nicky Henderson)
- Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy)
- Lady Buttons (Phil Kirby)
- Magic Saint (Paul Nicholls)
- Min (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Ordinary World (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Ornua (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Paloma Blue (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Politologue (Paul Nicholls)
- Riders Onthe Storm (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
- Sceau Royal (Alan King)
- Simply Ned (Nicky Richards)
- Un De Sceaux (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Waiting Patiently (Ruth Jefferson)