After much fear and trepidation it seems the stars have well and truly aligned for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the day two feature event at Cheltenham 2018.
The leading protagonists haven’t enjoyed the clearest passage to this biggest of days but, with only hours to go, they are set for a breathtaking showdown.
As such, this could be the race of the entire week given what is always the most nerve-shredding test of fencing. Two-miles at breakneck speed, knowing one wrong move can end the dream, this is high-class chasing at its best.
Altior, the 11/10 favourite, had his preparation delayed by a wind operation late last year. He returned last month in the Game Spirit at Newbury looking perhaps better than ever.
This potential jumping colossus is a two-time Festival scorer already and unbeaten in 12 outings over obstacles. His world went into a minor spin on Monday afternoon when trainer Nicky Henderson found him to be lame and requiring an infection to be drawn from his foot.
On Tuesday morning a collective sigh of relief went out when the Seven Barrows handler announced all was well and Altior is raring to go.
That he comes into this race unbeaten is no assurance of success. A year ago, Douvan was long odds-on for the Champion Chase in his quest to extend an unbeaten record. Having won the Supreme and the Arkle previously, the parallels with Altior are crystal clear.
He finished down the field and has not raced since. This season has been a will he-won’t he journey as trainer Willie Mullins grappled with the notion of running him or ruling him out completely for the season.
He made it to Cheltenham but on Sunday was touted for the Ryanair Chase instead of this contest. Now declared, he surely got a massive tick in his box when Ruby Walsh elected to partner him over Min in the same colours.
The latter is a Grade One winner this season over the trip. Douvan hasn’t run for 12 months. Walsh and Douvan are 11/4 to win the Champion Chase at the second time of asking. A stunning contest is surely looming.
The opening race on Wednesday brings the much-heralded Samcro to the attention of the wider racing public. He’s been flawless so far over hurdles in Ireland and despite owner Michael O’Leary suggesting he is ‘not the second coming’, he is 50/69 favourite for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and a festival banker in many eyes.
The RSA Chase offers an apparent duel between Irish raiders Presenting Percy and Monalee. The former was a festival winner last year and appears to have a touch of class about him. He found only leading Gold Cup contender Our Duke too strong on his last start and has perennial festival-winning rider Davy Russell in his corner.
Presenting Percy is the 9/4 favourite, but do not underestimate the claims of 6/1 chance Black Corton for Paul Nicholls. His partnership with Bryony Frost has been one of the success stories of this jumps season in Britain and they should run a big race together.
The unique challenge of the Cross Country race follows the Queen Mother. Trainer Gordon Elliott has a scarily strong hand in this with two-time festival winner Tiger Roll joining last year’s winner Causes Of Causes.
An aptitude for this event and a good rider are mush-haves in the Cross Country and with Jamie Codd on board, Causes Of Causes has got both. At 11/4 he looks the one they all have to fear again.
The finale on Wednesday is the Champion Bumper, where Anthony Honeyball’s Acey Milan is fancied to get the job done at 8/1.
He impressed in taking a Listed contest around here on testing ground on New Year’s Day and has since landed one of the strongest bumpers run in Britain this season with a good deal in hand.
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