The fact that both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi were forced to withdraw from the Queen Mother Champion Chase last year means that some would tend to put an asterisk next to Politologue’s success. But to downplay the performance of Politologue, jockey Harry Skelton and trainer Paul Nicholls would be to do all three a great disservice.
The trio were not hugely fancied heading into the race, as it was widely expected that in the absence of Altior and Chacun Pour Soi, the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil would emerge victorious, but a complete flop from the pre-race favourite saw him finish fourth behind Politologue, Dynamite Dollars and Bun Doran. Defi’s loss was Politologue’s gain, and it was a victory that will live long in the memory for Nicholls, who does not boast as prolific a Cheltenham record as rivals such as Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
Now, with the Cheltenham Festival bearing down on us once again, the question is whether or not Politologue can make it two wins on the spin. The Cheltenham best odds suggest that Nicholl’s horse is in with a shout, although there are a few horses better fancied. These include Altior, who won the race twice in a row in 2018 and 2019, evens favourite Chacun Pour Soi, Nube Negre, and last year’s Ryanair Chase winner Min.
Another contender is the Kim Bailey-trained First Flow, whose odds for the Champion Chase have been slashed after a fantastic win in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. While winning the day two showpiece at Cheltenham may be beyond the nine-year-old, it’s just another difficult opponent Politologue will have to contend with on March 17th.
There’s no doubt that Nicholls will have his horse in tip-top shape ahead of the Champion Chase. But while his win last year was certainly well deserved – no one can deny that – the greater strength of the field this year might prove too much for Politologue. He’s raced twice since victory at Cheltenham last year, with victory coming in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase and Sandown in December. But this was followed by defeat at the hands of the aforementioned First Flow at Ascot, where Politologue faded away at the vital moment to allow his rival to streak clear and claim victory.
That was a warning sign for Nicholls, but perhaps it was a defeat that will prove to be necessary in tempering expectations and realising that there is still a lot of work between now and Cheltenham to get Politlogue in the best possible shape to challenge for the Champion Chase. When the Festival comes round, it’s unlikely that Politologue will be the favourite on the Cheltenham race card for the Champion Chase, but some of Nicholl’s finest victories have come when his back has been up against the wall.
It’s perhaps fair to say that none of the Cheltenham feature races are as difficult to predict this year as the Champion Chase, and for now Nicholls will be content that his horse is simply in with a shout. He’ll be confident that, come race day, Politologue will have it in his locker to earn another memorable victory.