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How do we view Altior’s first defeat in 20 races over hurdles and fences? Was it a blip on his first try at a longer trip or a sign that Nicky Henderson’s stable star is finally on the wane after so long at the top?
Altior is a champion and one of the best two-miler chasers of his generation. That is not in doubt and his legacy secure, but as he’ll be a ten-year-old come the 2020 Cheltenham Festival he is not getting any younger.
He may be vulnerable to younger horses now – even around Prestbury Park, the scene of his greatest and four consecutive triumphs. Here are three potential successors to Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Willie Mullins has twice gone close to getting an elusive success in this particular Cheltenham Festival feature race with Min and Un De Sceaux in recent years. Altior and another great Henderson two-miler, Sprinter Sacre proved too good, however.
Chacun Por Soi is one of two unexposed types over fences who could have the Champion Chase his spring target. Despite a massive 1089 days off the track since leaving France and making his debut for the crack Irish trainer, he has won both of his outings for the stable impressively.
After bolting up at Naas, Chacun Pour Soi went straight into Grade 1 company at the Punchestown Festival. He followed-up on his bow for Mullins with another fine display there and further progress looks assured, so that’s why he’s a 4/1 smart bet on horse racing for the Champion Chase with 888.
Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Defi Du Seuil landed the 2017 Triumph Hurdle and JLT Novices’ Chase at the course last spring. Since finishing runner-up to Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown, he has returned to Prestbury Park and won the Shloer Chase, then followed-up by giving owner JP McManus a first-ever success in the Tingle Creek at Sandown.
Defi Du Seuil made it six career Grade 1 victories at the Esher venue where he has previously scooped the Scilly Isles as a novice. He toughed it out in a battle with veteran Un De Sceaux – a dual Punchestown Champion Chase winner.
Given his Cheltenham record (six victories in eight), Defi Du Seuil is an obvious contender for further Festival success. He is 5/1 for the 2020 Champion Chase.
Another lightly-raced and progressive inmate of Mullins’s County Carlow stables, Cilaos Emery has taken steps up in grade in his stride. A comfortable winner of a Gowran Park beginners chase in January, he has been superbly placed by his crack handler so far.
Cilaos Emery is three from three over fences, lowering the colours of previous Grade 1 scorer Ornua in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas with an easing down victory on reappearance. An even more classy performance in the Grade 2 Hilly Way at Cork saw him defeat Ballyoisin suggests he’s worth a go at the highest level.
With Grade 1 back form as a novice hurdler, Cilaos Emery is 10/1 for the Champion Chase and solid each-way value with so little exposure over fences.
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