Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil renew rivalry in what promises to be a fascinating clash for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
With injury putting dual champion Altior on the sidelines, it appears a straight shoot-out between the Irish raider Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil, who has dominated the division in Britain this season.
Chacun Pour Soi has run just four times for Willie Mullins, with his three victories including a comprehensive victory over Defi Du Seuil at the Punchestown Festival last May.
The eight-year-old suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of A Plus Tard on his reappearance at Leopardstown over Christmas, but bounced back to winning ways when seeing off high-class stablemate Min at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival.
Mullins is hopeful his charge has not yet reached the ceiling of his ability.
“He’s only catching up on experience,” said the Closutton trainer.
“He showed us from day one he could be a different class, and the day we schooled him in Leopardstown he really opened my eyes.
“Danny (Mullins) rode him, and I told him to follow the graded horses around, but after two fences he was in front. That was spectacular for a horse for his inexperience, but he’s such a natural.
“It looks a hell of a race – but we’ve always thought a lot of him, and hopefully he’ll run a big race.”
Defi Du Seuil is already a dual Festival winner, having taken the 2017 Triumph Hurdle and the Marsh Novices’ Chase 12 months ago.
The JP McManus-owned gelding is three from three since having to play second fiddle to Chacun Pour Soi last spring, beating the now-retired Un De Sceaux in both the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Clarence House at Ascot this season.
Hobbs told Sky Sports Racing: “He won over two and a half (miles) at the Festival last year, so we know he stays.
“Chacun Pour Soi, we didn’t know he’d be getting to Cheltenham, although he was a worry – particularly having beaten Defi at Punchestown last year.
“We’ve had all our three races over two miles, and they’ve been the right ones, so why not stay at two miles for the time being?
“We don’t mind at all what the ground is like – it’s not too much of a problem either way.”
Alan King’s Sceau Royal was beaten just three and a half lengths into third place in last year’s renewal, and was a similar distance behind Altior when runner-up to Nicky Henderson’s superstar at Newbury on his latest outing.
“He is in very good form, and I was delighted with his run in behind Altior in the Game Spirit,” said the Barbury Castle trainer.
“I think if anything he has improved again, and he has had a great preparation, but we could have just done with the ground drying up a bit.
“He ran a great race in it last year. We know what we are up against, but he is in the form of his life – and let’s hope he can acquit himself well.”
Paul Nicholls saddles last year’s runner-up Politologue and Dynamite Dollars, who was just a neck behind Sceau Royal at Newbury on what was his first competitive appearance in more than a year.
“I think Dynamite Dollars and Politologue are dark horses in the Champion Chase,” said Nicholls.
“Politologue was just beaten by Defi Du Seuil at Cheltenham in November, giving him weight. He then ran ordinary in the Tingle Creek, and we found out he bled. We have purposely not run him since then, because he is very effective when fresh. I think he’s a lively outsider
“Dynamite Dollars had a great season last year as a novice chaser – winning four, including the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown. He was doing really well but unfortunately got hurt when he won at Doncaster, which meant he missed the rest of the season.
“I thought it was a blinding run at Newbury to be beaten three and a half lengths, and he has improved enormously since then.
“He does not need to improve too much on his Newbury run to be right in the mix.”
The six-strong field is completed by Tom George’s outsider Bun Doran.
George said: “He is in good form and has had a good season already – winning the Desert Orchid round Kempton, which wouldn’t have suited him at all.
“Cheltenham will be far more his track, and hopefully he will go there and run into the frame.”