Altior may be absent, but the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature race on day two, still promises to be a cracker: Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi will renew their rivalry.
When the crack two-milers clashed at Punchestown at the end of last season, Defi Du Seuil was put firmly in his place by Chacun Pour Soi, four-and-a-quarter lengths the difference at the line.
That was a mighty effort from Chacun Pour Soi, on just his second start over fences.
But while inexperienced, he was a fresh horse and that stood to Willie Mullins’ charge. In contrast, the Punchestown race was Defi Du Seuil’s sixth run of an arduous season that included three clashes with the high-class Lostintranslation. Philip Hobbs’ stable star may have been over-the-top.
This season is evidence for that suspicion. Defi Du Seuil has won all three starts, a sequence that includes victory in the Tingle Creek, at Sandown, and, most recently, the Clarence House Chase, at Ascot. Chacun Pour Soi won last time out, too, bouncing back from an underwhelming finishing effort at Leopardstown, at Christmas, to beat stablemate, Min, at the Dublin Racing Festival.
His jumping, in a race run at a furious pace, was exceptional, but he did seem to be easing up a little on the run to the line and that raises a doubt about how he’ll cope with Cheltenham’s famously punishing hill. No such doubts surround Defi Du Seuil. He’s a dual Festival winner, who’s won six of his eight Cheltenham starts.
He’s still only a seven-year-old, so we probably haven’t yet seen the best of him. This will be his toughest test yet, but Defi Du Seuil is taken to pounce late and land the spoils.
The tone for the day will be set by the opening race, the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Envoi Allen is almost impossible to oppose. That’s not to suggest the field is weak: it is not. But Envoi Allen looks an exceptional talent and it’ll rank as a huge disappointment if he fails to deliver.
Some have crabbed last year’s Champion Bumper winner on the basis he doesn’t pulverise his opposition, but Sea The Stars never won by too far, either, and nobody questions his credentials.
In fact, Envoi Allen’s tendency to do just enough bodes well for his longevity. Expect another efficient, winning display today.
The RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase looks set to be a war of attrition, with Champ taken to come out on top. It’s not ideal that he comes here having fallen two fences from home when in command last time out, but he’s a seriously classy animal, with a huge engine. A clear round of jumping will surely see him go close.
With French raider Easysland in opposition, Festival great, Tiger Roll, has more on his plate in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase than last year, but it would still be a big shock if the dual Aintree Grand National hero failed to win this race for a third successive year.
He’s an amazing horse and the vibes, since a satisfactory return over the smaller obstacles and since an inadequate trip in Navan last month, suggest he’s as good as ever. Favourite-backers can also collect in the finale, where Appreciate It looks a good thing in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Willie Mullins has won this race a record nine times and the way Appreciate It destroyed his opposition in a Leopardstown Grade Two, last month, was wildly impressive. If he rocks up in the same form today, defeat is hard to envisage.
Mullins doesn’t have as good a record in the Grade Three Coral Cup, but Bachasson has each-way prospects of giving his trainer a second win in this fiercely competitive handicap. Sporting the colours made famous by Festival favourite, Un De Sceaux, Bachasson finished ahead of Tiger Roll last month, when third in the Boyne Hurdle. That was his first run for a year, so the bounce factor is a slight concern, but he’s well-treated on the best of his chase form and a big performance would be no great surprise.
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, the Fred Winter in old money, looks another fiendishly difficult puzzle, but Tronador won impressively in Thurles in January and blinkers can help him crown what could be a terrific day for the Elliott team.