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The legendary Altior has been ruled out of the Champion Chase at 15:05 on Wednesday, meaning one of Ireland’s biggest bankers, Chacun Pour Soi, is a clear favourite to win here.
Chacun Pour Soi has yet to face the Cheltenham hill, but that is possibly the only small chink in his armour. And even at that it may be less of a chink, and more of a scuff. You could probably get it out with some T-Cut.
A winner of the Grade 1 Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, Chacun followed it up with an even more dominant performance at the Dublin Racing Festival. Moving to the front at the last fence he showed a burst of pace Usain Bolt would be impressed by to win easily. He’s clearly the one to beat.
Nube Negra reached a new career height as he took down Altior in that race at Kempton for a Skelton yard that was simply red-hot at the time.
If Nube Negra is to win here, he’s going to have to buck some trends. All winners in the last 12 years were already Grade 1 winners and 16 of the last 20 placed horses were all Grade 1 winners as well. That’s not great news for this fella whose only Grade 1 experience was going down to Esprit Du Large at Sandown almost 18 months ago.
But records are there to be broken and Nube Negra flew to the front last time out when winning, and that performance means he remains a big player.
Politologue valiantly chased home Altior in this race in 2018 and 2019, but the bridesmaid eventually had his day at the wedding last year as he made all and bounded up the hill to win comfortably.
The reigning Champion Chase champ was turned over when favourite last time out at Ascot, and while fans of the grey will point out that he is also a Tingle Creek winner, his detractors will cry that both that race, and this race 12 months ago were about as star-studded as a Channel 5 reality TV show. Against Chacun, Politologue may not have the same success.
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The surprise 2020 Arkle winner was no match for Chacun Pour Soi in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. She ran well and jumped fluently but couldn’t lay a glove on Chacun Pour Soi and went down by just over eight lengths.
A lot like Everton this season, Put The Kettle On seems to prefer being on her travels and is three from three at Cheltenham. Whether it’s the country air or the thought of a few pints in the 21 Club, something gives Put The Kettle On an extra pep in her step.
First Flow is on a six-race winning streak and will be in seventh heaven if he was to spring a surprise here. He stayed on strongly to fend off Politologue by seven lengths in the Clarence House Chase but even on soft ground connections didn’t think it was testing enough.
Fans of First Flow will be hoping for a torrential downpour of biblical proportions to get First Flow close to Chacun Pour Soi.
Alan King’s Sceau Royal was certainly not the king 12 months ago as he came home 45 lengths behind the winner Politologue in this race. He was struggling three from home but has had wind surgery since and won two Grade 2 races this season, as well as chasing home Epatante over hurdles in the Fighting Fifth.
He fell at just the fifth fence in the Desert Orchid Chase so we didn’t get to see whether he could keep tabs on Altior or Nube Negra.
Cilaos Emery came off a 108-day break to a winning return in Naas late last month, and that two-week turnaround may be a little quick. He was a comfortable winner on that day and won the Hilly Way in December 2019, but it hasn’t been straightforward over fences since then.
He fell at the first in the 2020 Dublin Chase and, after being sent back over hurdles, he returned over fences in November and was a beaten 8/11 favourite in the Clonmel Oil Chase. There’s no doubting his quality but punters have had their fingers burnt and may be reluctant to side with him again.
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OK Rogue Vif fans, get the abacus out. He was beaten 25 lengths by Nube Negra and 22 lengths by Altior at Kempton in December. He was beaten nine lengths by Politologue at Sandown a few weeks earlier. He was more than 19 lengths behind Put The Kettle On in the Arkle at the Festival in 2020.
That would suggest he is just below the very top level, and he’s yet to eyeball Chacun Pour Soi. Although there is a sneaky suspicion good ground could bring a little more improvement out of him. Will it be enough?
Greaneteen looked to be doing everything right in his second season chasing as he won a Grade 2 at Exeter and then chased home Politologue in his first race in Grade 1 company. However, the wheels fell off in the Game Spirit Chase last month as he was comfortably beaten and has plenty to prove.
The Amanda Byrnes of the race (minus the drug addiction and trip to rehab) Greaneteen is on a comeback mission after a promising start to his career and keen to put the critics in place.
Notebook was favourite for the Arkle last year but failed to impress and Henry De Bromhead was lost for words after Notebook had come into the race after winning the Racing Post novice Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day and the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
This year’s preparation has not been as ideal. After returning to action with a Grade 2 win in Naas, Notebook has come up against Chacun Pour Soi twice, getting beat a combined 21 lengths.
He’s tried tracking Chacun Pour Soi and he’s tried forcing the issue from the front. It’s hard to see him finding the answer at Cheltenham.
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