Queen Mother Champion Chase 2019: Two Longshots To Oppose Altior With At Cheltenham
Odds-on antepost favourite Altior has headed 22 entrants for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.
Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old, who is unbeaten in 16 races over obstacles, was an impressive winner of the 2m feature at the festival last year and will be atop the list of many horse racing naps tables come the spring.
Preparations for a defence of his crown have been good, winning the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Desert Orchid at Kempton in his two runs this term, and he’ll likely remain a tough nut to crack for those that will oppose him.
But which of those other entries has a fair chance of turning over the overwhelming favourite on the Wednesday? They’re difficult to find, with an already thin pack of potential contestants containing many that are unlikely to run in this event.
We’ve picked out a pair of big priced entrants that might be able to spring a surprise if the reigning champion puts a foot wrong for a change. With the distinct possibility of a tiny field going to post, a docket with either of these names on it could be a worthwhile addition to the ante-post punter’s pile.
Pat Fahey’s eight-year-old is 3-5 over fences and announced himself as a real contender in this division with a fine win of the Hilly Way Chase at Cork on reappearance. He had the likes of Doctor Phoenix and Special Tiara in behind that day.
While he’ll have to take a big step forward to keep Altior in his sights, he’s lightly raced, unexposed, will run get the break that seems to get the best out of him and his trainer seems fairly sweet on him.
“He's summered fierce well and was in great shape coming here. He's just a different horse this year. He'd a few problems last year, but is all there now and has had no injuries,” he said after that win at Cork.
“Hopefully he can go on to Cheltenham in March.
"After that he suffers from allergies ... so we'll aim to have him at his peak in March.”
He’s 50-1 in a place and should be able to outrun those odds if making it to the starting post come the second day of this year's festival.
The JP McManus-owned chaser put in a string of stunning front-running displays in his novice season in 2017, winning four from four by an aggregate winning distance of 60 lengths. A setback restricted him to just the one outing last season, another facile success in Grade 2 action at Navan. He had been aimed at the Champion Chase but wasn’t ready for that assignment.
Things have been altogether more complex this term, the Willie Mullins-trained runner has fallen twice in two runs in Graded company this term. The second of those efforts, at Leopardstown, was much better than the first, and this exuberant sort clearly still maintains a good deal of the talent of old.
Closutton handler Mullins has handed three of his quartet in this race entries for the Ryanair over further, and Great Field is the only one of that grouping to have this as his only potential assignment.
The man himself said this about New Field in his stable tour this winter: "He could be anything. We haven't really got to the bottom of his ability yet and he's rated 164."
While his free-running style and errors at fences so far this term are of course a concern, 25-1 is a fair price indeed for a horse of his ability.
He’ll wing it out in front and keep ante-post backers on their toes at the very least.