Read about who has been entered for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on March 17 plus watch what our experts have to say about who might win
Ante-post favourite Chacun Pour Soi heads five entries from the all-conquering Willie Mullins stable among a total of 31 for this year's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase - but Douvan and Faugheen are not among them.
Alongside the market leader, Mullins has entered Min, Cilaos Emery, Cash Back and Tornado Flyer in pursuit of the two-mile steeplechasing crown he has yet to win. The race takes place on Wednesday March 17.
Since sustaining an injury when down the field in the race in 2017, Douvan has made it to the racecourse just three times, including when playing a memorable cameo in the 2018 renewal, bowling along with bristling enthusiasm until falling heavily four out.
Faugheen, now 13 and yet to run this campaign, is not entered, either, and does not feature in the Ryanair Chase, either. But while the future of both remains uncertain, there are some other fascinating entries among those entered for the Champion Chase at the initial stage.
Who will win this year's Champion Chase? Our experts take a close look
These include novice Chatham Street Lad, a 15-length winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December for Mick Winters and jockey Darragh O'Keeffe. However, his connections have indicated the Marsh Chase is his most likely Festival objective.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained A Plus Tard, the winning mount of O'Keeffe in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown last month, understandably does not get an entry as connections will now stick to longer distances, but stablemate Notebook is entered, along with talented mare Put The Kettle On.
Last year's disappointing favourite Defi Du Seuil is entered, along with Politologue, the horse who registered an emphatic triumph for Paul Nicholls and Harry Skelton. Nicholls' other entries are Duc Des Genievres, Greaneteen and Magic Saint.
First Flow has won six of his 10 starts over fences, including his last five starts. Most recently, he defied a big weight to capture the Castleford Handicap Chase at Wetherby on 27 December.
Gloucestershire-based Bailey is considering options for the nine-year-old and remarked: "First Flow is a horse that needs heavy ground, and he was very brave when winning at Wetherby over the Festive period.
"The Champion Chase is something we would think about, but the ground is going to be an important factor for him.
"He could run in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot later this month."
As expected, the brilliant Altior and his recent Kempton conqueror Nube Negra are both in the field, along with fellow Nicky Henderson entry Janika, while Gordon Elliott has put in Battleoverdoyen and Samcro, and Ruth Jefferson has entered King George runner-up Waiting Patiently.
Rouge Vif was third to Politologue in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, but was a disappointing last of four finishers at Kempton last time on ground his trainer Harry Whittington felt was unsuitable.
He said: “The ground wasn’t ideal for him at Kempton as he needs good ground. It was quick enough to back him up after the Tingle Creek, but he seemed in good form and he has taken his races well in the past. It was a shame they had the rain overnight at Kempton.
“He did run a bit flat, but it was only three weeks after a big effort in the Tingle Creek. We have a nice long spell to that week in March. If it comes up soft he might not run and we would potentially wait for the likes of Aintree, Sandown and Punchestown.
“We have just got to wait and see what the ground conditions are like. It was a lesson learnt last time though and we won’t be running him quick again after a big run, even though he is a very tough horse.”
_Willie Mullins has the ante-post favourites for the Champion Chase (Chacun Pour Soi), Ryanair Chase (Min) and Gold Cup (Al Boum Photo) - the first three races for which entries have been made _
Waiting Patiently and Altior are also entered for the Ryanair Chase the following day on March 18, the latter getting an entry in the race for the first time.
In 2020 it was Min who came out in front and he is one of 23 Irish-trained entries in 2021 among a bumper total of 50.
The 10-year-old recorded the seventh Grade One success of his career when making a winning seasonal return in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in December, when he accounted for stablemates Tornado Flyer and Melon, and heads the market with most bookmakers.
If successful again in 2021, Min would become just the second dual winner of the Ryanair Chase after Albertas Run, successful in 2010 and 2011.
Also engaged again this year are last year’s neck runner-up Saint Calvados, fourth to Frodon on his return to action in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, and the third home from 2020 A Plus Tard, who landed the G1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over the Festive period.
Vying with Min for favouritism at this stage is Imperial Aura. The eight-year-old is already a winner at The Festival, having landed the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase over two and a half miles in 2020.
Bailey commented: "Imperial Aura is in good form and he runs on Saturday in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton.
"That race is essentially his prep run for the Cheltenham Festival where he will hopefully line up in the Ryanair Chase.
"I am very happy with him and Saturday should hopefully tell us more, but Cheltenham is definitely a target for him."Check out the Racing TV large screen app on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV devices, so you can enjoy the action on your TV screen! Click here for more details.
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