Defi, Not Altior, Is the One to Beat in the Champion Chase

Defi Du Seuil winning the Ascot Clarence House

Altior’s long unbeaten run coming to an end and the latest of three seasonal victories this weekend from Defi Du Seuil have seen the latter ascend to favouritism for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Some may see this as premature. Nicky Henderson’s charge is the reigning champion after all, and official figures suggest the young pretender has nine pounds to find with Altior. The drop back to two-miles may well return the champ to his previously peerless best and Defi Du Seuil will face tougher rivals at Cheltenham than he’s faced so far this term.

Here’s the lowdown on why those factors don’t actually check out. Altior hasn’t shown enough this season, nor in previous seasons, to suggest he has enough to cope with a rival of Defi’s quality. Be sure to make use of our tips and analysis, including our NAP Of The Day.

Altior This Season

It’s fair to say this year hasn’t gone to plan for Altior. Henderson’s grand plan to transform the indomitable two-miler into a Gold Cup horse hasn’t worked.

A training schedule more focused on getting Altior to stay further appeared to have blunted his natural speed. He was never ahead of Cyrname at Ascot on his return, second over every yard of the two-miles-five trip.

As explosive and speedy as Cyrname is, he’s not a two-miler. Having failed to head that rival, who is slower than the rivals he’ll face in the Champion Chase, why is a drop back to two-miles going to return him to his best? It wasn’t that Altior failed to stay at Ascot; he just wasn’t good enough.

Cyrname has done little to frank the form, and Henderson has hardly had the ideal preparation for Altior in the lead up to the Festival. A Christmas engagement was missed and the recent sponsorship misstep is hardly likely to have boosted confidence at home.

Defi Du Seuil This Season

This stinted, interrupted and misfiring campaign is in stark contrast to Defi’s 2019-20. Philip Hobbs has masterminded a season of which Henderson would be proud.

He returned to action with a cosy success over the same course and distance he’ll face in March. He then went to both Sandown and Ascot, courses Altior visited in 2019 before landing the Champion Chase.

Altior will arrive at Prestbury Park with questions to answer. That’s in comparison to Defi Du Seuil, who is only going one way over fences, and that’s upwards. Whereas the idling seven-year-old only beat Un De Sceaux by a neck at Sandown, he was an eased down three-lengths winner at Ascot on Saturday. That latest run came on ground on which he was unproven and against UDS who was unbeaten in two previous starts at Ascot.

Fourteen rivals have been unable to live with Defi Du Seuil this season. Altior has only managed to finish ahead of one rival this year, that the 138 rated Solomon Grey.

Previous Champion Chases

Even if Altior can rediscover some of his best form, he comes up against an entirely new challenge at Cheltenham this year. He’s dominated a very weak two-mile division over the past couple of seasons.

In 2018, his main rival in the Champion Chase in Douvan fell. He ultimately scored with plenty to spare, but came off the bridle in a rather concerning fashion. It was a similar story in 2019 where he was rescued by the hill. He took the final fence in second, seemingly in trouble behind Sceau Royal, a solid yardstick but ultimately not high class rival. His superior stamina has seen him land the last two Champion Chases against an inferior quality of opposition.

This year, he’ll face a contender who stays better than him (scored three times beyond two-miles last term), and has enough pace to mix it with anything thrown at him. Defi Du Seuil has the perfect blend of speed and stamina, making him a different class of rival.

Even if this was a perfectly planned year for Altior, Defi would still rank a strong contender to topple him. Given that it’s been far from that – failed attempts to stay further, injuries and training missteps – then Defi Du Seuil has to be the one to beat in the Champion Chase.

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