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Ed Nicholson: “Write off 11yo Altior at your peril”

October 24, 2020

2021 Queen Mother Champion Chase

Last season’s winner Politologue was instantly dismissed by odds compilers after landing last season’s encounter with a derisory 25/1 quote offered for him to defend his crown in 2021. Most believe him to be a fortunate winner of last season’s 2 mile Queen Mother Champion Chase with many of the leading protagonists not turning up last March due to injury, and Defi Du Seuil running pounds below form.

Paul Nicholls’ grey earnt a BHA rating of 169 at Cheltenham having come into the race on the back of a below par performance in the Tinge Creek (posted 148). At the age of 9 and with 24 runs to his name that BHA performance rating suggests he has improved (posted 168 in 2018 JLT Melling Chase when beating Min by 4 lengths).

Altior has beaten Politologue every time they have met, and he posted a rating of 168 when beating Politogue by 1 3/4 in 2019 Champion Chase.

Altior was rated 175 at the time and hasn’t run up to that lofty mark since he acquired it as he posted 171 at Ascot over 2 miles 3 ½ miles and then took the 2020 Grade 2 Game Spirit by 3 lengths. He has been dropped to a mark of 172.

The dual Champion Chase winning gelding, who has won four times at the Cheltenham Festival, will be 11 at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival and is an 8/1 chance at time of writing.

Statistics tell you no 11-year-old has won the Champion Chase since Moscow Flyer in 2005, and he has been the only 11 year old winner of the race from 16 attempts in the last 20 years and that only three horses aged over 10 have won the race since its inception in 1959.

However, since Moscow Flyer’s 2005 contest, in the intervening 14 years only 7 different horses have tried to win it as 11 or 12 year olds, 5 of them previous Champion Chase winners, contesting 9 Champion Chases between them all.

Only two had a rating on a par with Altior and a further two higher than 163, and those finished 5th, 2nd, 3rd & 4th .

Let’s take a closer look.

There are some interesting trends to analyse concerning Altior’s attempt to regain his crown at the age of 11.

Moscow Flyer himself tried to win back to back Champion Chases in 2006 as a 12 year old but could only finish 5th (5/1). That season he had twice been beaten at odds on in his other two appearances (was rated 180 at the time) and certainly was not the horse he was. It’s interesting to note that 2006 Champion Chase was the last of 44 races he ran in (26 chases). 

 

Altior will be 11 at the next Cheltenham Festival.

In the last 20 years there have been 593 runs by horses aged 11 or more at a Cheltenham Festival with 11 being successful, while 349 of those 593 were exactly 11 years old with just 5 winning.

Of those 349 only 53 were single figure prices (three of those five winners were 6/4, 13/8 and 5/2) while 208 were 25/1 or bigger. In short plenty of 11 year olds turn up at the festival in March with little chance of winning.

Altior at time of writing would seem to have at least a good chance of running and running well at Cheltenham (as opposed to being an 11 year old with no chance) and importantly is a relatively lightly raced 11 year old.

As you can see from the table above, Altior is on 24 career races at present, and its highly likely he will have just another two or three races under his belt come Wednesday 16th March 2021.

The mean and mode average number of races raced by winners of Champion Chase is 21, while median and mode average of 11/12 year olds running in the race being 36.

Also, it’s interesting that those who do try to win this race when 11 or 12 are usually past winners of the Champion Chase (God’s Own & Somersby hadn’t) but three of seven posted better performance ratings than their BHA ratings at the time (plus one who stayed on 159) You can see for yourself (shown in brackets under ‘ratings at time of race’)  

At present Altior is on 172 (reduced from 175 on 31st March). His number of races run means he is more lightly raced, completed less miles, jumped fewer fences that any 11 year old that has tried to win this race before (well since 2006 anyways) which must be a positive, while he will be the joint second highest rated (Moscow Flyer’s 180 can also be questioned and Sizing Europe ran to 166 in the race itself) chaser trying to win it as an 11 year old.   

Looking at the average BHA rating of Queen Mother Champion Chase winners since 2006, it looks like the 2021 winner will have to put up a BHA performance rating of around 174/175.

Of the main protagonists for 2021 Champion Chase title, Chacun Por Soi is on 172 (having run just 8 times, and only 5 runs over fences; Defi Du Seuil  is on 169 (ran to a disappointing 156 in last year’s race); A Plus Tard 167; Put The Kettle On at 155.

Put the Kettle On is an interesting horse to analyse. As winner of the Arkle Chase she must be seriously considered for next season’s Champion Chase, especially as she became the first mare to win the race since the great Anaglogs Daughter in 1980.

Altior (2018), Sprinter Sacre (2013 and 2016), Sizing Europe (2011), Voy Por Ustedes (2007),  Moscow Flyer (2003), Flagship Uberalles (2002), Klairon Davis (1996), Remittance Man (1992), Flyingbolt (1966), Ben Stack (1964) and Fortria (1960) – all won the novices’ event at the Festival before taking the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Since 2002 6 of 17 Arkle winners have gone onto win the Champion Chase, while a further 3 placed second; 8 didn’t run in the race (four of these 8 ran unsuccessfully in the Ryanair).

Put The Kettle On has had 13 career starts, six over fences winning five. She has twice won over the Cheltenham fences and in winning the Arkle ran from a pre-race rating of 144 (risen to 155) is improving at a rate of knots. She beat horses rated 154, 157, 156, 151 and 158, while the race before beat 151 and 155 rated horses. She also has that handy 7 lbs mares allowance. She looks overpriced to me at 16/1, but there must be a slight concern she will line up for the Ryanair, given the stable have A Plus Tard (who also has two options) and that she has already raced and won over 20 furlongs in her chase career.

Arkle winners can improve a great deal from their novice year – Well Chief went up from 146 to 177 in five runs, while another Henry de Bromhead Arkle winner, Sizing Europe made the best part of 20lbs improvement in a season.

 

Given her relative inexperience and likely further improvement over fences, she looks more than capable of being on a mark of mid 160s if not higher going into the 2021 Champion Chase, so with that 7lbs she could record a ‘combined’ figure of 172 -174.

From the Champion Chase table you can see that 5 of the last 12 winners have come into the race rated 165 or lower.  

One worry is that no mare has ever won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but facts speak louder than statistics and it should be noted that although statistically correct, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Only two mares have tried since 1988, and both of those weren’t exactly top-class championship chasers

The French bred, trained and ridden Kario de Sormain ran in the 2006 Queen Mother Champion Chase and unseated early in the race at 20/1, and then in 1994 Snitton Lane finished 6th of 10 (with just 5lbs mare allowance) at 33/1 for Bill Clay and David Bridgewater. The mare had won the previous year’s Grand Annual Chase carrying bottom weight. In short, no mare of Put The Kettle On’s ability has tried, and that 7lbs allowance is very handy.  

All in all, 16/1 looks a fair price, but the main issue is that she could run in one of three races at next season’s Cheltenham Festival – the Champion Chase, the Ryanair or even the new G2 Mares Chase (which will be ran around 2m 4f), although giving a penalty away for winning a Grade 1 may scupper that route.

Chacun Por Soi is a likable sort. Just eight career runs, five over fences, means he is still open to improvement yet already finds himself with a rating of 172 achieved when he beat Min by 3 3/4l in Leopardstown’s Ladbrokes Dublin Chase. That meant he ended the season as the leading 2 mile chaser. He heads the ante post market at time of writing at 5/1. He is bound to be raced sparingly until Cheltenham and is a big player. He has yet to race away from Ireland since being with Willie Mullins but was favourite to land last year’s QMCC until being forced to pull out on the eve of the race last season when 6/4 favourite. He was beaten by A Plus Tard on his seasonal debut last term when travelling well for much of the race, and his form is better served by that subsequent victory at Min at the Dublin Racing Festival. He is an obvious contender.     

Cilaos Emery has to be considered, but having finished 4th in the Unibet Champion hurdle, he may stick to the smaller obstacles. Rated 159 over hurdles, he does have a 165 chase rating to his name, which to me looks dubiously high.

Fifth in his Supreme hurdle year at Cheltenham, he is lightly raced and has only four chases to his name, including a fall at the first in 2020 Grade 1 Dublin Chase, and a win in what turned out to be a match in G2 Hilly Way, where incidentally he received that lofty 165 rating (beat 169 rated Ballyoisin 7 lengths getting 3lbs, when only two finished with 160 rated Great Fields unseating 4 out). He must be on shortlist, but there remains a doubt about his ability to run a mistake free race over the Cheltenham fences when going that extra yard quicker against the best company – especially on quicker ground that soft.     

A Plus Tard could finish only 3rd in the 2020 Ryanair Chase, but I’ve watched the race several times and I feel he didn’t run as well as he might. His jumping lacked its usual fluency and he lost more at the fences than he did in the race itself. 170 rated Min won, with Saint Calvados (pre race 161) in 2nd. The BHA marked Min down to 168, but upped both Saint Calvados (to 167) and A Plus Tard to 166 – he was 160 prior.

A Plus Tard is only six and has had only eight runs over fences. The worry for anyone considering him for the Queen Mother is that they’ll try the Ryanair route again, which he is shorter in the betting for at this stage. It must be said the profile of past winners and placed horses in Ryanair doesn’t scream dropping back to championship two miles and not one who tried since 2012 was successful.  He’s probably more likely to be aimed at the Ryanair, although his defeat of Chacun Por Soir at Christmas time in the Grade1 2 mile contest shows he is not lacking for speed.

If we are contemplating Put the Kettle On, then a closer look at Fakir D'oudairies should be observed. Joseph O’Brien’s six year old finished 1.25 lengths second in the Arkle, with an impressive 18 lengths back to the third. Throughout the contest he was travelling better than most, with possible exception of winner, but a mistake at second last when about to challenge didn’t help. He went into the race rated 154 and BHA upped him to 161; that rating (based on Arkle BHA performance ratings was only bettered 7 times by winners of the Arkle since 2005. He looks overpriced at 25/1, but he may be stepped up in trip for the Ryanair in 2021 – I noted that in a video interview before the start of the 2019/20 season Joseph O’Brien mentioned he could step up in trip even then, and this has been confirmed once against recently – with even a possibility he may be tried over 3 miles.   

He has shown his liking for Cheltenham Festival conditions as he was 4th in Supreme hurdle as a four year old (9/2JF), and has already won at the course.

Sporting the same colours is Le Richebourg who can be backed at 33/1 with Unibet. He hasn’t raced since winning the 2019 G1 Arkle chase at Leopardstown (rated 154 pre race upped to 160). He was down to 7/4 favourite for the Cheltenham Festival Arkle before injury kept him away. Trainer mentioned in January 2020 that the horse was due to contest the late spring festivals. So, he must be likely to restart his career in late 2020. A quick check of those who won that Irish Arkle – Footpad, Douvan, Un de Sceaux  – shows the calibre of the race and Le Richebourg returned the third highest Racing Post rating in the last 10 years when winning that race. If he returns to his best – he will be single figure odds come March. But he needs to show he has retained his enthusiasm.

 

Conclusion

Altior is likely to be lightly campaigned with this race firmly in mind although his non- appearance at last year’s meeting demonstrates the pitfalls of ante post betting.

His overall race profile, his trainer’s general record at delivering a horse cherry ripe for the Cheltenham Festival, and the calibre of the opposition make him an interesting selection at current 8/1 odds.

Altior remains unbeaten over distances around 2 miles in hurdle and chase races.

Put the Kettle On also has plenty going for her, although there remains a chance she could end up in the Ryanair. 16/1 is worth the risk in my opinion.

Finally, 33/1 about Le Richebourg is worth a speculative play.

2pts      Altior                  8/1

1pt        Put The Kettle On         16/1

0.5pt     Le Richebourg 33/1