Politologue has a new rival in Chacun Pour Soi for Cheltenham Festival defence

PAUL Nicholls is under no illusions about the task facing defending champion Politologue in next month’s Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – hailing red-hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi as “nearly unbeatable”.

This was the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue winning the 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase under Harry Skelton.

Politologue provided the Ditcheat trainer with a joint-record sixth victory in the two-mile showpiece at the Cheltenham Festival last March, and made a successful start to the current campaign by bagging his second Tingle Creek at Sandown.

However, the John Hales-owned grey was beaten by First Flow on his latest outing in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase – and having witnessed the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi trounce his rivals at last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, Nicholls admits his charge has plenty on his plate.

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Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme, Nicholls said: “Chacun Pour Soi looks nearly unbeatable on his run at Leopardstown the other day.

This was Politologue surging up the Cheltneham hill to win the 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

“He has got to act at Cheltenham – it’s a slightly different track and that is the only question mark I can see.

“Politologue always gives his all and is the most genuine and tough horse. I think this year will be his sixth Cheltenham Festival.

“But if Chacun Pour Soi turns up in really top form, he’s going to be hard for us all to beat.

“Politologue does like Cheltenham, which is a big plus, but I think he’s got plenty to do.”

This Paul Nicholls receiving his 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase trophy from the Duchess of Cornwall.

During an extensive interview, Nicholls confirmed his Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame, co-owned by John Dance and Bryan Drew, is firmly on course for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Festival, while the improving Barbados Buck’s is “in the mix” for the Albert Bartlett.

Of Bravemansgame, he said: “He’s in good form and nice and fresh. He had four runs up to and including the Challow Hurdle at Christmas and we just decided to keep him fresh after that.

“He worked well on Saturday and is very fit. We’ll probably have an away-day somewhere with him and I couldn’t be happier with him. Physically, he just keeps on improving.”

Nicholls’s Cheltenham team also includes Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Frodon, of whom he added: “He’s an amazing horse. He’s gone and won a King George VI Chase now on top of a Cotswold Chase and a Ryanair.

“He’s definitely in the mix. Nobody will ever believe Frodon will win a Gold Cup, but he keeps on surprising people.”

The multiple champion trainer confirmed the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell followed by a trip to Aintree as “the plan at the moment” for McFabulous, although testing conditions at Fontwell may prompt connections to consider the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

More immediately, Nicholls is looking forward to saddling both Cyrname, Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase winner, and Master Tommytucker in next Saturday’s Betfair Ascot Chase.

“Master Tommytucker would be fine getting a lead if Cyrname goes a real gallop. They’re both free-going kind of horses, but Master Tommytucker doesn’t need to lead,” said Nicholls.

“Cyrname doesn’t need to lead now either. They’ll probably help each other.”

Meanwhile, champion trainer Nicky Henderson has confirmed that Altior will sidestep next Sunday’s rescheduled fixture at Newbury and head straight to the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

He has opted not to give Altior, the 2018 and 2019 champion chaser, a prep run because of the proximity of the National Hunt Festival.

He does now, however, intend to run Gold Cup contender Champ in the two-mile Game Spirit Chase – the race originally intended for Altior – rather than the three-mile Denman Chase.

“With regards to Altior and Champ, under the current circumstances and having discussed the situation in detail with all connections involved, we have come to the conclusion that Altior will head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without a run beforehand,” he explained.

“He is in excellent form, but he does tend to take his races quite hard.”

Champ will be taking a sizeable drop in trip to an extended two miles in the Game Spirit, but Henderson feels it is the correct call with a tilt at Gold Cup glory in mind.

“He hasn’t run for a year, so we could be in danger that three miles may be slightly too far for his first run of the season,” added the trainer.

Allmankind bids to give his Cheltenham Festival claims a timely boost in the Grade Two Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick today.

Clear-cut victories on this track and in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown have made Dan Skelton’s exciting prospect a leading fancy for the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy.

The five-year-old is third favourite at around 10-1 for the two-mile novice championship behind Shishkin and Energumene.

“I’m very happy with him. He looks fantastic. I couldn’t be more pleased with him,” said Skelton after the fixture was given the green light.

“I think it’s going to be a decent race with Cheddleton and Sky Pirate in there getting weight. It’s a strong race. No excuses, he’s ready to go.”

Middleham jockey Henry Brooke returns to action at Carlisle tomorrow after breaking three vertebrae in his neck while riding out at the Cheshire stables of Oliver Greenall last November.

It is the second time he has made a miraculous recovery from serious injury – he was placed in an induced ocma after suffering multiple injuries in a fall at Hexham in October 2016.

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