What a spectacle we saw at Ascot yesterday. The rematch between the young pretender, Defi De Seuil, and the once kind, Un De Sceaux. The much anticipated close (with them going off 11/10 joint favourites) ding-dong battle up the Ascot straight however, was non-existent. In simple terms, Defi was on a different planet to his rivals, blowing them away with a serious turn of foot after jumping into the lead at the second-last. Seeing him repeat his Tingle Creek performance wasn’t a huge surprise, but I’m not sure many expected him to do so in such a dominant manner. Critics were quick to blame Paul Townend for not going quicker from the get go on Un De Sceaux but do many think that would have made any difference to the outcome? The Willie Mullins trained legend ran his heart out again, something he has done throughout his glittering career, but on the day he was blown away by a horse with so much ability. Trained by Phillip Hobbs, Defi has just improved massively with every race over the minimum trip this season and looks a serious animal on his day. Saying that however even Hobbs didn’t expect to see a performance as ruthless as what we saw. After the race Hobbs stated: “Obviously we were very hopeful that he might go and win again but I couldn’t imagine he would go and do it that easily,”
Hobbs tamely said it wasn’t 100% that he’d go to the Champion Chase but all but 99.9% confirmed it. So as we look forward to the festival, I fully believe, and did so right after he beat Politologue at Cheltenham, that he is the 2020 Champion Chase winner. His jumping this season has been massively improved, yesterday he was impeccable. He travels very strongly into his races and seems to find a lot more off the bridle than has past been the case. His record at the festival reads an impressive 2 from 2 record, winning the Triumph Hurdle and the JLT. His record at Cheltenham in general is mightily impressive, with a 6 from 8 winning return so he clearly loves the course. All of these factors place him right at the top of my pecking order in the Champion Chase. He is the current 7/4 market leader with NRNB firms and for me, that is about right. He has a massive chance. Un De Sceaux is a tricky one to assess, given that Paul Townend clearly felt he didn’t fire. If that is so, then the festival could still be an option, but certainly not for the Champion Chase. The Ryanair looks a more likely route, even with his stablemate Min the current market principle. I’m all but certain he has enough left in the tank to run at least one last big race before retirement beckons, maybe back at his beloved Punchestown. One thing I will take a stance on is that the RPR of 166 that Defi got for winning yesterday is simply bonkers. I am certainly of the belief that we saw a 170+ performance from that horse, he undoubtedly bettered his RPR from Sandown so I’ll be taking that rating with a pinch of salt.
So, in preview to the festival, without readily dismissing Altior too quickly Defi still seems the one to beat and the most likely Champion Chase victor. He quite simply looks too good for them, and for me there’s every chance his unbeaten 100% record at the festival will remain intact come the middle of March.
written by Daniel Harrold