If a straw poll had been taken on who would win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase a week ago, very few would have even considered the possibility of Politologue providing owner John Hales with a third victory in the race.
The two-mile showpiece had been billed as the race of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, with Nicky Henderson’s dual winner Altior set to be taken on by a pair of top-class younger guns in the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil and Willie Mullins Chacun Pour Soi.
However, a Sunday setback for Altior ultimately led to his withdrawal on Tuesday, while the raceday defection of Chacun Pour Soi due to a foot abscess appeared to have rendered what promised to be a fascinating affair into a one-horse show.
However, Politologue, in the hands of Harry Skelton, had clearly not read the script, producing a foot-perfect front-running display reminiscent of the hugely popular fellow grey One Man, who also carried the the familiar yellow with red star colours of Hales.
“He dictated it from start to finish. Harry got it absolutely right. I said, ‘make your own pace and run the finish out of them’, and that’s exactly what he did’,” said the emotional owner.
Hales is no stranger to top-level success, of course, with this his third Champion Chase in all – with the middle leg provided by Azertyuiop in 2004.
The veteran owner’s big-race haul also includes a Grand National success thanks to another grey in Neptune Collonges – and the pair are interlinked.
Hales said: “I went to Auteuil to take Neptune Collonges’ trophies to the man who bred him. I saw Politologue win and was impressed, so I asked my friend if he thought we could buy him and he said, ‘his owner drinks a lot, so it depends what day you ring him!’
“Anyway, two days later we owned the horse.”
Although Politologue had run a tremendous race when runner-up to Altior 12 months ago, he returned to the Cotswolds with plenty to prove, having finished some 18 lengths behind Defi Du Seuil on his previous outing in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in early December.
A broken blood vessel was put forward as a valid excuse, though, and multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls had him back to his best on the day that mattered most.
Hales added: “I have to congratulate Paul Nicholls for getting our horse in that condition – he was as sharp as a razor.
“To win a third Queen Mother – it’s unbelievable. This is a horse with a wonderful attitude – just like Neptune – and that means everything to me. They’re like peas out of the same pod.
“I’m sorry Altior didn’t run – I would have loved to have taken him on with that performance. His owner Mrs Pugh has congratulated me and so has JP McManus (owner of Defi Du Seuil).”
Skelton rode at the behest of Hales, and he too was understandably full of emotion afterwards.
“It’s my first ride in the Champion Chase. I owe so much to the Hales family. They’ve known me since I was a little kid. Pat (Hales) used to take me round all the shows. They are very good supporters of the family.
“What more can I say about Paul – I grafted there for a long time, me and Dan (Skelton) and we will be forever grateful for what he has done for our careers.
“He told me at the start of the season to come back and ride a little bit. This is magic. He has trained him to perfection. This is what he can do.
“I can’t believe it.”