Cheltenham Festival day two: Paul Nicholls’ star wins the Champion Chase, while Tiger Roll settles for second

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  • The Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue claimed today’s feature race, the £400,000 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, at the Cheltenham Festival (Wednesday, 11 March).

    The popular grey nine-year-old, a 6/1 shot who is owned by John Hales, made virtually all from the start of the just under two-mile Grade One contest, staying on strongly in the closing stages to beat stablemate Dynamite Dollars by 9½ lengths. The 2/5 favourite Defi Du Seuil was disappointing and a well-beaten fourth.

    It was a first Champion Chase victory for jockey Harry Skelton on his first ride in the race and the winning trainer’s sixth triumph in the big race, while it was the son of Poliglote’s third victory in Grade One company.

    “Politologue is brilliant when he is fresh,” said the Ditcheat handler. “He is not the easiest to train, he bled in the Tingle Creek and we had to change what we do with him, but he was very ready today. I am pleased because it shows we were right about coming here fresh. 

    “I thought Sam Twiston-Davies was going to ride him all the way along beforehand and I feel for Sam because he has ridden some brilliant races, but John wanted Harry Skelton and I didn’t argue.”

    Winning owner John Hales was enjoying a third victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, following his successes with One Man in 1998 and Azertyuiop in 2004 in the two-mile championship.

    The triumphant jockey was achieving a lifetime’s dream winning the Champion Chase, after a positive and front-running ride — which the chasing pack could never catch.

    “It’s my first ride in the Champion Chase,” said Harry. “I owe so much to the Hales family — they have known me since I was a little kid. As a child you dream of winning these things, and Politologue was great all the way round.

    “I sat down and watched every replay of him — you just do your homework. I had a sit on him and he felt great. If Paul tells you he’s good and he believes in him, you can believe too.”

    Tiger Roll settles for runner-up spot

    Grand National hero Tiger Roll was beaten into second by 17 lengths in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase by French horse Easysland, under Jonathan Plouganouthwarting the Aintree star’s bid for a fifth victory at the Festival.

    Six-year-old Easysland was bought privately by JP McManus after winning a cross-country chase at The International meeting at Cheltenham in December and has since won a race at Pau in France.

    “I was expecting a good run from him,” said winning trainer David Cottin. “He seemed really well at home, his coat had changed, he was in good form and it was a really big advantage to have come here in December and to know the track. The heavy ground was also in his favour.”

    The French handler smiled when it was highlighted that his horse had defeated the public’s favourite, Tiger Roll, adding: “My horse is a champion — today he was the best.” 

    Tiger Roll’s trainer, Gordon Elliott, was not disheartened following the race.

    “We are obviously disappointed that we didn’t win, but I said before the race that the ground was a big worry. Once he is okay in the morning that is all I care about. It was perfect prep for the Grand National and we are delighted. He’s 100% — just tired after the race.” 

    Champ impresses

    The Nicky Henderson-trained Champ flew up the hill to catch Minella Indo and 5/2 favourite Allaho just before the line in the Grade One RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, giving the trainer a record 67th winner at the Festival.

    Champ, who was ridden by Barry Geraghty and is owned by JP McManus, is named after former multiple champion jockey AP McCoy. The eight-year-old son of King’s Theatre was sent off a 4/1 chance and won by a length from Minella Indo.

    “I thought we had come an honourable third and that was it. I had actually turned to see what was happening up the front — I don’t know where he came from,” exclaimed Nicky. “He’s a horse with a wonderful temperament and attitude.”

    Nicky completed a double on the day courtesy also of Dame De Compagnie in the Coral Cup Hurdle. The Gordon Elliott-trained Envoi Allen claimed the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, kick-starting a double too for the Irish handler.

    Don’t miss our full report from the Cheltenham Festival in the 19 March issue of Horse & Hound.

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