The Cheltenham festival is just round the corner and people are already eagerly anticipating one race in particular.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase has the eyes of the world on it for one reason and one reason only, Douvan and Altior, two horse racing heavyweights, are set to go head to head. The battle between the pair has been on and off for a while now but now it’s set to go ahead with both horses likely to be fit to take part.
Altior had been missing but made a belated return to action at Newbury but it was Douvan who the main concern surrounded. They eight year old had been struggling with a front leg problem but trainer Willie Mullins has moved to declare the injury as not being as serious as first though and also said Douvan “has been pleasing me, doing everything right.” Obviously there is still more work for Douvan to do before being declared ready to race but the signs are certainly positive.
Douvan, odds on favourite to win the race last year, was beaten by Special Tiara but it’s felt that a pelvis issue had contributed to the defeat. Now people are licking their lips at the prospect of seeing Douvan return fully fit to take on Altior. The latter won the Arkle last year and the Supreme Novices’ the year before, following in the footsteps of Douvan and this is what makes the pair meeting so intriguing.
Douvan is set to join Faugheen, Djakadam, Killutagh Vic, Total Recall, Footpad and Getabird in Willie Mullins’ 40 plus team heading for the festival but it’s Gordon Elliott who is currently being tipped by the bookmakers to reign supreme as leading trainer over the four days. Mullins will have around 6 favourites as he heads over from Ireland but this time around there’s no real standout contenders.
There’s also strong hopes for Faugheen as he has won on both of his appearances at the festival, in both 2014 and 2015. The champion hurdler, owned by American Rich Ricci, missed both the 2016 and 2017 festivals due to injury but a return in November. He did however suffer a shock defeat at Christmas before putting in a strong performance at Leopardstown last month, where he finished second.
While people don’t really know what to expect from Faugheen, otherwise known as “The Machine”, there’s hope that the 10 year old will go on to regain its champion crown. There’s also set to be a return to action for stable jockey Ruby Walsh, who has a knack of delivering at Cheltenham. He’s back from a broken leg and fellow stable jockey Paul Townend is also making a return from injury too.
It’s certainly set to be a great festival, with many great horses and races on show. It would certainly be great to see Douvan and Altior go head to head, as long as they’re both fully fit, to see who reigns supreme. It will also be interesting to see just how Faugheen fares in the Champion Hurdle too and whether he’s still got enough to be crowned champion.