Last Updated: 09/01/20 12:22pm
Nicky Henderson’s Altior heads 31 entries for the Betway Queen Mother Chase, the highlight of day two at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday March 11.
The Patricia Pugh-owned 10-year-old annexed the 2018 running by seven lengths from Min (Willie Mullins) and last year took the honours by a length and three quarters from Politologue (Paul Nicholls).
If successful again in 2020, he would become only the second three-time winner of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase following on from Badsworth Boy, who triumphed in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Altior is a four-time winner at the Festival, having also landed the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase in 2017. He went on to break the record of the great Big Buck’s by winning 19 consecutive jump races between October, 2015 and April, 2019 – 10 of which came at Grade One level.
Henderson has also made an entry for Haldon Gold Cup victor Janika and is the joint-most successful handler ever in the Champion Chase alongside the late Tom Dreaper with six victories.
The horse that brought Altior’s winning run to a close was Cyrname (Paul Nicholls), who came out on top by two and a quarter length in the Grade Two 1965 Chase over two and a half miles at Ascot on November 23.
Cyrname, who was subsequently a well-beaten second when stepped up to three miles for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, has yet to run at Cheltenham having shown a preference for right-handed tracks.
The 11-times champion trainer Nicholls is bidding for a record-equalling sixth Queen Mother and has six entries in total. In addition to Cyrname and Politologue, Nicholls has also entered Dynamite Dollars, who won four of his five starts in 2018/19 including the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, Capeland, Diego du Charmil and Magic Saint.
A trainer chasing a first Champion Chase is Gloucestershire-based Tom George.
The Slad handler has had three horses placed in recent years with Module taking third in 2014, Sir Valentino also taking third in 2017 and God’s Own occupying the same position behind Altior in 2018.
This year George has entered Bun Doran, who recorded his biggest victory last time out in the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park in December, when he defeated 2019 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase winner Duc des Genievres (Willie Mullins) by a length and a half with Sceau Royal (Alan King) in third.
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 and finishing second under 11st 7lb in the 2019 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase at The Festival.
George said: “Bun Doran is in good form and the Betway Queen Champion Chase is the intended target for him.
“We were delighted with his victory at Kempton. Kempton is a tight track but he jumped really well. He is probably better suited to left-handed tracks, but he travelled nicely and won well.
“We will keep him fresh for Cheltenham and look forward to running there. He is improving all the time and we have had horses including God’s Own and Sir Valentino placed in the race.”
Sky Bet’s market leader is Defi du Seuil (Philip Hobbs), who has twice been successful at the Festival with victories in the 2017 JCB Triumph Hurdle and 2019 Marsh Novices’ Chase.
The JP McManus-owned seven-year-old has won both his starts this season in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham and Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
There are 13 Irish-trained entries, including seven from Ireland’s champion jump trainer Willie Mullins. The pick of Mullins’ entries with Betway is Chacun Pour Soi, runner-up to A Plus Tard (Henry de Bromhead) in a Grade One contest at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The Betway Champion Chase is one of the few major prizes in jump racing to have so far eluded Mullins.
Source : Sky Sports