It proved to be third time lucky for Politologue as he landed the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature on day two of the Festival, for Paul Nicholls and jockey Harry Skelton.
It was one of the most anticipated races of the week, with Altior, Chacun Pour Soi, and Defi Du Seuil expected to provide an all-star cast for a clash of the ages, but, after two late defections, only the last-named made it to the tapes.
Altior was withdrawn on Tuesday and Chacun Pour Soi taken out this morning, leaving what bookmakers and punters believed to be a penalty kick for Defi Du Seuil.
But all of that will be incidental to Nicholls, who saddled the first two home. Fourth behind Altior in 2018 and runner-up to the same horse in 2019, Politologue set out in front this time and gave a bold sight with his fast and accurate jumping.
The grey gelding, owned by John Hales, who won the race previously with One Man in 1998 and Azertyuiop in 2004, eased clear from three furlongs out and was never in a moment’s danger thereafter. Stablemate Dynamite Dollars stuck to his task nicely to take second place, clear of Bun Doran, who held off the odds-on favourite in the dour battle for third place, with Sceau Royal last of the quintet.
“This was my first ride in the Champion Chase, and as a kid you dream of winning these races,” said Skelton.
“He was great all the way around. His two ears were flicking the whole way and I thought there was always a bit there when I want him. And I thought if I could stretch them from the top of the hill… I didn’t want to go too hard and then completely walk myself, but I winged the third-last and from then he has kept on going hard up the run-in.”
Skelton was also full of praise for the winning trainer: “He’s a master. I grafted there for a long time - me and Dan (brother, former assistant to Nicholls) - and we’ll forever be grateful for what he has done for our careers. He told me at the start of the season to come back and ride out a little bit. It’s just magic. This is what he can do: train them to perfection. I cannot believe it.”
An emotional John Hales said: “It was brilliant. We dictated it from start to finish. Tactically, Harry got it absolutely right. In the previous race, he thought they’d gone to slow, so I said, ‘make your own pace. If that means going from the start, go out and run the finish out of them’ – and that’s exactly what he did.”