By Tommy Lyons
The clash of Douvan, Altior, and Min in this afternoon’s Betway Champion Chase is even more than we could have hoped for as a feature on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.
It is a fascinating race, particularly as Douvan is having his first run since picking up an injury in this race in 2017. That ended his perfect record since joining Willie Mullins, but he’s back to redeem his reputation — and can do so.
It’s not ideal that he hasn’t had a prep run, but connections would not be running him unless they were sure he was going to produce something very close to his best.
Mullins reported that the horse’s work was better than ever prior to picking another injury at home in November. After immediate concerns that his season was over, Douvan recovered remarkably quickly and was back in work much sooner than expected.
While Mullins has had to tread a little carefully with his star performer, his participation tells us he has coped very well with the increase in the pace and intensity of his work.
Chief rival Altior hasn’t had an ideal season, and a little scare on Monday didn’t do much for the confidence of his backers.
He is a terrific horse, but Douvan has always been something extra-special and can make amends for last year’s defeat.
Stable-companion Min has been on the drift ever since Douvan was confirmed for this race and Ruby Walsh declared to ride him.
The former looked better than ever when winning at the Dublin Racing Festival, and probably has fewest questions to answer.
That said, he has to prove he has the brilliance of Douvan and Altior and may need both to underperform a little to come out on top.
Samcro can enhance his already lofty reputation by taking the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Jack Kennedy.
The six-year-old son of Germany is unbeaten in all disciplines, have won his only outing in a point-to-point, three times in bumpers and three times over hurdles.
On each occasion over timber he has won with a considerable amount to spare, and there’s every reason to expect plenty more to come.
On what he has achieved he will be very hard to beat, and if he is half the horse his trainer believes him to be he will win this just as he has his previous outings over hurdles.
Presenting Percy gets the nap to win the RSA Chase for trainer Pat Kelly and jockey Davy Russell.
Winner of the Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle at this meeting in 2017, he has looked a natural over fences this season, winning at Galway and Fairyhouse and running Our Duke to a length in the Red Mills Chase last time.
The condition of the ground will make stamina a major factor, and he possesses that in abundance.
He likes to be settled off the pace and brought through with a late challenge and in the testing conditions those tactics should prove ideal. His strength in the finish can prove too much for Monalee.
The last-named is also terrific prospect. After making a winning chasing debut at Punchestown, he fell at Leopardstown, but showed there were no ill-effects when leading all the way and finding plenty to win the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival.
His jumping was very good on that occasion, and a similar display should ensure he pushes the selection all the way, though he will need to settle early to maximise his chance.
Had the ground been on the good side for today’s meeting Tiger Roll would have been a confident selection in the Cross Country Chase.
Testing conditions make it a much more open race, and reluctantly he is passed over in favour of stable-companion Cause Of Causes, who would also prefer better ground but copes with testing conditions.
Both horses like to be dropped out and brought through late. Such tactics worked well for Cause Of Causes last year, and he is marginally preferred to Tiger Roll, whose class can ensure a place in the frame.
It will be no surprise if their trainer, Gordon Elliott, fills the frame as Bless The Wings is also worthy of consideration at bigger prices.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.