Champion Chase: one month until the big race
Douvan: yet to be beaten over fences
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos) Champion Chase: one month until the big race By David Baxter 5:01pM 15 FEB 2017
THE presence of Douvan means this is the likely first port of call for favourite backers trying to find a Festival banker. Willie Mullins will be keeping everything crossed that injury does not strike down another one of his stars, who appears a sure thing unless connections of Altior decide to step out of novice company.
The main contenders
Douvan – best price 1-3
In nine starts over fences, the seven-year-old has never really faced anything like a serious test. He comes into the race chasing a third Cheltenham Festival win, following victories in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and then the Arkle last year. Owner Rich Ricci thinks this could be his biggest task to date, but as long as he does not make any serious errors he is extremely hard to oppose.
Altior – best price 5-1 (2-1 without Douvan)
If Nicky Henderson and company decided to take this in rather than the Racing Post Arkle, racegoers could see one of the clashes for the ages. However, Henderson thinks that match can wait a year, and his exciting novice, who looks ready to fill the void left by Sprinter Sacre, will in all likelihood swerve the Champion Chase.
Fox Norton – best price 10-1 (5-2 without Douvan)
Colin Tizzard inherited the seven-year-old this season when owners Ann and Alan Potts moved him from Neil Mulholland. He has won twice for his new trainer, but ran into the buzzsaw that is Altior in Newbury's Game Spirit last time out. Strictly on that form he will need to find a lot of improvement to trouble Douvan, though he does have a good record at Cheltenham.
Un De Sceaux – best price 12-1 (5-1 without Douvan)
Stablemate to Douvan, this season's Tingle Creek and Clarence House winner is in fine form, but connections think better ground exposes a lack of speed for two miles, so the Ryanair is considered the logical target.
Sire De Grugy: won the Champion Chase in 2014
PICTURE: Getty Images
Grounds for concern
While Douvan is proven on slower ground, a dry month between now and the festival could make for good going at Cheltenham, something he is yet to really experience.
It could be that quicker conditions make him even better, a terrifying thought for the rest of the field, but there are some other runners who would like better ground, and, conversely some who rather it stayed soft.
The Tom George-trained pair of God's Own and Sir Valentino would be happy on good ground, along with Special Tiara, whose last two victories have come on ground officially described as good.
Were it to be softer ground come Champion Chase day, then perhaps previous hero Sire De Grugy could roll back the years. Garde La Victoire is another who enjoys cut in the surface while Un De Sceaux is a much better horse with some cut and could be redirected here if conditions are really testing.
The aforementioned Sire De Grugy would be a popular winner, and is a best-priced 33-1 (7-1 without Douvan) chance to triumph for the Gary Moore team.
He ran Un De Sceaux close in the Tingle Creek earlier in the season, but would need to be at his very best to topple Douvan.
Vroum Vroum Mag (best price 25-1, 16-1 without Douvan) is entered in everything and her class and versatility means she cannot be discounted if she was to run, though if she did it would likely mean misfortune had befallen Douvan.
Although yet to win a graded race, Simply Ned often performs with credit when taking on the best, and he can be backed at 66-1 (33-1 without Douvan), though he was 15 lengths behind Douvan last month in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last December.