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Politologue upsets the odds, as Champ wins a thriller

 

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High point: Politologue, ridden by Harry Skelton, on the way to winning the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

High point: Politologue, ridden by Harry Skelton, on the way to winning the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

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Barry Geraghty following victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase aboard Champ

Barry Geraghty following victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase aboard Champ

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High point: Politologue, ridden by Harry Skelton, on the way to winning the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Politologue produced the upset of Ladies' Day at Cheltenham as Defi Du Seuil failed to take advantage of the absence of the great Altior, handing Paul Nicholls his sixth Queen Mother Champion Chase winner.

The JP McManus-owned Defi Du Seuil set off at an overwhelming 2/5 favourite to take the crown from Altior, who was ruled out on the eve of the race after falling lame at the weekend, and the task at hand looked even simpler when Chacun Pour Soi was also withdrawn yesterday morning.

The result was a stream of money coming in late for the John Hales-owned Politologue, who set off at 6/1 and immediately assumed the lead under Harry Skelton, competing in the Champion race for the first time.

Yet as Politologue pulled clear coming down the hill, Defi Du Seuil never managed to challenge as Barry Geraghty laboured him home, fully in the knowledge that all was not well with the heavy favourite.

"That was brilliant," an emotional Hales said. "We dictated it from start to finish. Tactically, Harry got it absolutely right.

"In his previous race we thought they'd gone too slow, so I said, 'Make your own pace'. If that means going on from the start, run the finish out of them - and that's what he did. I'm over the moon - my third Queen Mother."

Skelton was keen to pay tribute to trainer Nicholls as well as Hales, having cut his teeth on his yard alongside brother Dan who has made his name as a trainer in his own right.

"It's my first ride in the Champion Chase," said winning jockey Skelton. "I owe so much to the Hales family. They've known me since I was a kid. Pat (Mrs Hales) used to take me round the shows.

"What more can I say for Paul (Nicholls)? I grafted there for a long time, me and Dan. 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."

The surprise came just as much in the fact that Nicholls took the opening day off, with none of his horses in action until the Champion Chase, which made it all the more rewarding to see Politologue followed home by another one of his chargers in Dynamite Dollars.

"My plan when I rang John up at Christmas was that I wasn't going to run him until the Champion Chase," said Nicholls.

"I wanted to do everything I could to have him fit and fresh all week and he's just been looking amazing.

"I just decided this year we'd bring him here really, really fresh. He's been doing all his work with Clan Des Obeaux, who is the same, and he's been in really good form.

"He looked outstanding in the parade ring beforehand and I have been getting more bullish about him."

Defi Du Seuil failed to challenge at all and the well-beaten fourth-place finish was no surprise to Geraghty.

"He was never really going. I was trying to nurse him into it, but I knew from the back of the third-last that the game was up," he said.

"Full credit to the winner, and he was the last horse that Defi passed here in November. He got his day.

"(Defi Du Seuil) has (dominated the division all season), but he is fine and healthy. For no obvious reason he didn't perform, but he will have other days."

The disappointment stopped there for Geraghty and McManus, though, as the former steered Champ to one of the great finishes in Cheltenham history, upsetting Minella Indo and Allaho in the RSA Chase to fightback from 10 lengths down and split them to cross the line first.

Having taken two wins on the opening day, Nicky Henderson maintained his strong form after watching Champ defy his doubters.

"It didn't look very likely to happen, did it?" said Henderson. "It looked like he was going to be an honourable third. I was watching the front two and all of a sudden he appeared. I was thinking, 'How has he got here?'

"He was 100/1 at the second last and what price was he at the last? We had the Might Bite thing in this race a few years ago, so you'd have to say it's been a strange race for me."

The triumph proved the second win of the day for Henderson and Geraghty, with Dame De Compagnie staying out of trouble to clinch a convincing win in the 26-strong Coral Cup.

But the real winner of the day was McManus, who took a fantastic four wins the day after he celebrated his 69th birthday with two more victories. After both Champ and Dame De Compagnie left the winner's enclosure, McManus was able to celebrate a winner in Easysland, who beat reigning Grand National champion and four-time Cheltenham winner Tiger Roll to take the Cross Country.

Elliot did get the day off to a flier, though, to claim back-to-back wins following victory in Tuesday evening's National Hunt Chase as Envoi Allen lived up to its favourite's billing to take the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, while McManus picked up his fourth win of the day as Aramax clinched the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

There was enough time left for Willie Mullins to finally get off the mark by taking a one-two in the Champion Bumper, with Paul Townend riding Ferny Hollow to victory ahead of Appreciate It.

Belfast Telegraph