On the back of a stunning success last time out, Defi Du Seuil looks worth siding with to dethrone Altior and land a staller renewal of the 2m Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase on Ladies Day at the Cheltenham Festival this Wednesday (15:30).
That came in the 2m 1f Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot, where the Philip Hobbs trained seven-year-old pulverised his five rivals when beating Un De Sceaux by 2 3/4 lengths.
Having previously narrowly beaten Willie Mullins’ 10-time Grade 1 and dual Cheltenham Festival winner by a neck in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown, Defi Du Seuil brushed him aside with consummate ease on this occasion.
Under a confident ride from regular pilot Barry Geraghty, Defi Du Seuil stalked the trailblazing Un De Sceaux before looming up large at the second last pulling double.
The son of Voix Du Nord then tanked his way to the front and pulled effortlessly clear approaching the last with Geraghty looking around for nonexistent dangers.
Defi Du Seuil was then eased down in the last 110 yards to win impressively by 2 3/4 lengths.
Un De Sceaux, a triple winner of the Clarence House, stuck to his guns to be second but was flattered to get so close.
Strong traveller with potent turn of foot
It was a performance right out of the top drawer. The JP McManus owned gelding is improving with every outing and now unbeaten in three starts this season.
Defi Du Seuil has also now really got his jumping together and shown he can be clever when getting in close to a fence, as well as bold when meeting one on a stride.
He also has a huge engine and is a strong traveller with a potent turn of foot.
Those are the ideal attributes for the Queen Mother Champion Chase which is traditionally run at a strong pace.
Another plus is that Defi Du Seuil is already a dual Grade 1 winner at the Cheltenham Festival, having captured the Triumph Hurdle in 2017 and last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase.
He does have 5lb to find with the top-rated Altior, but that older rival has reached his peak whereas he remains open to plenty more progression.
Defi Du Seuil should arguably be favourite for this, so – at 7/4 with Paddy Power – he looks well worth a wager to pounce late under Geraghty and secure a third Cheltenham Festival success.
Concerns for Altior in third Queen Mother Champion Chase bid
Reigning champion Altior was favourite with bookmakers to retain his crown until being found lame.
He could become only the second horse in the history of the race to win it three times following Badsworth Boy in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Nicky Henderson’s superstar has landed the last two runnings and is a four-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival overall, having also captured the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle.
Doubts were raised as to whether the 10-year-old was the force of old when his record 19-race winning run came to an end against Cyrname on return to action at Ascot in November when stepped up to 2m 5f and beaten just over two lengths in the Grade 2 1965 Christy Chase.
Altior subsequently missed an outing at Christmas after picking up an abscess, but was backed off the boards and sent off the 1/3 favourite when landing the Grade 2 Game Spirit for a third time at Newbury last month.
However, those that waded-in had plenty of anxious moments during the 2m contest as Altior jumped big and lost ground at a couple of fences before a customary flat spot approaching the final fence.
Strength of Game Spirit form questionable
At that point, the pace-setting Dynamite Dollars began to tire following a lengthy lay-off as Altior’s old rival Sceau Royal cruised into contention seemingly travelling the best.
Regular pilot Nico de Boinville then had to get serious on Altior but, after a good jump at the last, he hit top gear and forged clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths from Alan King’s charge.
Whilst Altior ultimately got the job done it was more workmanlike than spectacular and the fact that Dynamite Dollars was only a neck further behind in third on his first start for 379 days cast a shadow on how strong the form is.
It could be a case that Altior now only just does what is required to get the job done.
Alternatively, it could be argued that he has now reached his peak and may be vulnerable to up-and-coming young chasers like Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi here.
This is also by far the strongest renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase that Altior has contested, so it will be no easy task for a horse of his age.
Indeed, only 11 horses aged 10 have triumphed since the race was first run in 1959.
So, taking everything into account, Altior looks worth opposing at odds of 100/30 with Boylesports on this occasion.
Chacun Pour Soi completes star trio of Queen Mother Champion Chase contenders
Irish handler Willie Mullins is the most successful in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, but has never won the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
However, he saddles a leading contender in the shape of Chacun Pour Soi.
The lightly-raced ex-French trained eight-year-old, who is owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci, has won three of his four starts since joining the Closutton handler.
He looked like a potential superstar on his final start last season when beating Defi Du Seuil in a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival by 4 1/2 lengths.
Chacun Pour Soi was then surprisingly turned over at long odds-on by A Plus Tard on return to action in Grade 1 at Leopardstown over the Christmas period and beaten just under four lengths.
At that time, many Mullins mounts needed the run.
The son of Policy Maker showed that he had clearly come on a bundle for that outing when resuming winning ways in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last month.
After travelling strongly throughout, Chacun Pour Soi breezed past stable companion Min to take up the running at the second last.
He then stretched clear and looked set to an easy victory but, after making a mistake at the last, had to be really kept right up to his work by Paul Townend on the run-in to score by just under four lengths.
Chacun Pour Soi showed that he clearly has a huge engine, but the way he ultimately finished off the race raises doubts as to whether the stiff uphill finish at this venue will play to his strengths.
That has to be a concern for his supporters. Chacun Pour Soi is undoubtedly a class act with bags of untapped potential and can be backed at 5/2 with Unibet here.