Superstar chaser Altior headlines 22 entries for the £400,000 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the highlight on day two of the Cheltenham Festival, on March 13th.
Trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by Patricia Pugh, Altior is undefeated in three starts at the Cheltenham Festival and is going for back-to-back victories over the Old Course at Cheltenham in the two-mile Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, following an impressive seven-length victory over Min (Willie Mullins IRE) in 2018.
He won the 2017 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase emphatically and the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in tremendous style, also by seven lengths from Min.
Altior enjoyed a very easy success in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on December 27th, the nine-year-old’s 16th consecutive victory over obstacles, further consolidating his unbeaten record over fences (11 starts) and previously hurdles (five starts).
If successful, he would bring Henderson’s sixth Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase victory, equalling the record for a trainer in the race held by the late Tom Dreaper.
Willie Mullins accounts for four of the 10 Irish-trained entries, with Min accompanied by last year’s impressive Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase winner Footpad, nine-time Grade One scorer Un De Sceaux and Great Field.
The Irish challenge also includes 12-year-old Special Tiara (Henry de Bromhead IRE), winner of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2017, and Hilly Way Chase victor Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy IRE).
Sceau Royal (Alan King) defeated Simply Ned (Nicky Richards) by two and a quarter lengths in the Shloer Chase at The November Meeting but was no match for Altior when fourth in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park in December.
Popular 12-year-old Simply Ned, whose stables are in Cumbria, humbled several of the Irish contenders, including runner-up Footpad, on their own turf when landing the Paddy’s Rewards Club “Sugar Paddy” Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Fellow Northern-trained Lady Buttons (Phil Kirby) is the only mare among the entries. The nine-year-old is three from three so far this season, taking in a Listed hurdle at Wetherby, a competitive handicap chase at Newbury and most recently a two and a half-mile Listed chase at Doncaster.
Her record over fences stands at four wins from five starts. A mare has yet to win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, with the last one to be placed being the great Anaglogs Daughter – runner-up to Drumgora in 1981.
North Yorkshire-based Phil Kirby said: “Lady Buttons has come out of Doncaster in good form.
“We were delighted with her performance and this season, she has just kept on improving.
“She has always been a horse we have held in high regard. She had a couple of niggles earlier on in her career, but the last couple of seasons have been excellent and she has progressed with every run.
“We have entered her in the Champion Chase. We are still to make a decision as to where she runs next as there are not a whole load of options at two miles for mares.
“It was pleasing at Doncaster that she demonstrated she stays further.”
Paul Nicholls, who has won the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on five occasions, has Melling Chase victor and last year’s fourth Politologue among his two contenders, while Colin Tizzard’s sole entry is the 2017 runner-up Fox Norton.
Other notables include God’s Own (Tom George), who came home third in the 2018 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington).