Altior’s much-anticipated return to action was unexpectedly postponed on Saturday but Chacun Pour Soi made no mistake on his seasonal debut in Cork’s Hilly Way Chase on Sunday, cementing his position as the clear favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March as he did so.
Chacun Pour Soi is now top-priced at 3-1 to win the two-mile championship at the Festival, from 4-1 overnight, having been well in command in Sunday’s Grade Two contest when his closest pursuers, Cash Back and Djingle, departed at the final fence. Both horses and their jockeys emerged unscathed.
“It was a great start for him,” Paul Townend, Chacun Pour Soi’s jockey, said. “He was fairly asleep early on in the race and got a good blow into himself. He had the other two well-beaten when they fell at the last and was entitled to win. It’s good to get him back on the track.”
Townend added that the winner’s jumping had been “deadly” and that he should “come on plenty for it” ahead of possible Grade One targets at Leopardstown in December and February.
Willie Mullins’s stable jockey passed up the chance to ride Min, the favourite, in Sunday’s Grade One John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in order to partner Chacun Pour Soi at Cork, and the trainer’s son, Paddy, was the beneficiary as Min completed a hat-trick in a race that was run in thick fog.
Min was in front from the off and held off the late challenge of his stable companion, Tornado Flyer, by a length.
“I’m gutted as he put in an exhibition of jumping and you couldn’t see it,” Mullins said. “From when we turned down the back, he made ground at each jump.
“I winged the last and he kept on really well. He’s push-button stuff and I’d love another go on him.”
Altior, meanwhile, is top-priced at 7-1 for the Champion Chase, and Nicky Henderson may not find out until Tuesday whether the Peterborough Chase, which was due to be run at waterlogged Huntingdon on Sunday, will be re-scheduled for later this week, giving the trainer an early opportunity to get Altior’s season back on track.
“There have been provisional discussions with Jockey Club Racecourses on re-staging the race ongoing since yesterday,” a spokesperson for the British Horseracing Authority said on Sunday, “and we will look to make a decision in the early part of this coming week.”
Taunton’s card on Thursday has staged a rescheduled Peterborough Chase in the past and looks like the obvious option again, although it was run over an extended two miles, five furlongs – rather than the traditional two-and-a-half miles – in 2017.
Cyrname ended Altior’s 19-race winning streak over jumps after Henderson opted to run his chaser over two-five on soft ground at Ascot last November, a decision that the trainer has repeatedly said he bitterly regrets. The ground at Taunton is currently good-to-soft with some rain forecast before Thursday, and it must be just as likely that he will now wait for the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on 27 December.
Henderson mentioned last year’s defeat at Ascot several times in the run-up to Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase, without ever suggesting that he expected the ground at Sandown to be an issue, and he brought it up again in a prickly interview with Racing TV on Saturday evening after criticism on social media of his out-of-the-blue decision to scratch from the race late on Friday.
“You saw what happened at Ascot last year,” Henderson told the interviewer Lydia Hislop. “I said then I should never have run him, because I’ll get lynched, I’ve done that [scratched Altior from the Tingle Creek] and you have tried to kill me.
Greg Wood’s tips for Monday 7 December
Musselburgh 12.15 Animore 12.45 Mig Des Taillons 1.15 Armattiekan 1.45 Breguet Boy 2.15 No Regrets (nap) 2.45 Tokaramore 3.15 Sin A Bhfuil
Plumpton 12.30 Captain Biggles 1.00 Edwardstone 1.30 Midnightreflection 2.05 Smurphy Enki 2.35 Kaproyale 3.05 Rumble B 3.35 Gelino Bello
Chelmsford City 1.55 Water Iris 2.25 Secret Treaties (nb) 2.55 Al Nayyir 3.25 Durabella 3.55 Mini Milk 4.25 Vincenzo Coccotti 4.55 Celtic Classic 5.25 Mizen Master
Wolverhampton 4.05 Catbird Seat 4.40 Chitra 5.10 G For Gabrial 5.40 Legal Reform 6.10 Rhubarb Bikini 6.40 Manton Grange 7.10 Tomouh
“Luckily, there are some sensible people out here who totally and utterly agree with what I’ve done. The horse comes before anything else and his well-being, his welfare is the only thing I care about.”
It is, of course, entirely up to any horse’s owners whether to run in any race, be it a Grade One or a seller, and the horse’s best interests always come first. The latest twist in the Altior tale, though, still leaves several questions hanging, not least as Henderson described the Sandown ground as a “bottomless glue pot” in a separate interview, and suggested too that the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the only race of the season that matters.
Betfair, which spent a lot of money sponsoring the Tingle Creek, was understandably a little put-out to hear its race written off as a little more than an optional prep for the Festival, while Andrew Cooper, Sandown’s clerk of the course, would be within his rights to take similar exception to the “glue-pot” comment, which seems a little exaggerated, to say the least.
Politologue, in the Tingle Creek, and Allmankind, in the Henry VIII Novice Chase, were both around three seconds slower than the standard time over the two-mile chase course. That suggests that the ground was closer to good than it was to heavy.
It is at least fairly clear after this weekend’s events that the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the only race on Henderson’s mind for Altior this season, and also that he faces a very stern new rival in Chacun Pour Soi. Whether the prospect of that head-to-head in March makes up for the disappointment of Altior’s likely absence from Grade One competition in the interim is another question entirely.