Defi Du Seuil and Un De Sceaux to clash again in Clarence House
Altior may not be heading to Ascot on Saturday afternoon for the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase, but Steve Chambers is still expecting a highly entertaining renewal of the Grade 1 feature, and he's taken an in-depth look at the five entries set to line up at the Berkshire venue...
Since the turn of the century, five winners of the Clarence House Chase have gone on to be victorious in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and Saturday's renewal of the two-mile, 167 yard contest should provide some vital clues for the Wednesday showpiece at the 2020 Prestbury Park extravaganza.
The current second favourite for the Champion Chase is Defi Du Seuil, and the Philip Hobbs-trained seven-year-old heads into the Clarence House on the back of a stunning victory in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park, where he outbattled the three-times Clarence House Chase hero Un De Sceaux.
That pair are set to lock horns once again this weekend, and while Defi Du Seuil is an odds-on shot with the bookmakers for the Clarence House, he only beat Un De Sceaux by a neck in that epic Tingle Creek, so Willie Mullins - the trainer of Un De Sceaux - will feel that his charge could turn the form around at a track his 12-year-old has blossomed at throughout his career.
The Closutton veteran was making his first start of the season in the Tingle Creek - while Defi Du Seuil was race fit following a comeback win in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, and while Un De Sceaux is hitting the twilight of his career, the fire still burns bright and he could look to set a fierce gallop from the outset to ruffle the feathers of his market rival.
A best-priced 4/1 for the Champion Chase in March, Defi Du Seuil is open to more improvement over fences yet, and considering last season's JLT Novices' Chase winner is still on the upgrade, a win at the weekend could see him leapfrog current Champion Chase ante-post favourite Altior to the head of the betting for the Cheltenham Festival feature.
Defi Du Seuil tasted defeat on his sole visit to Ascot (when fourth in the 2017 Coral Hurdle), and with Un De Sceaux holding an unbeaten record at the track then the pair should serve up another thrilling renewal, but the former has the scope to continue his fine record this season, and it's hard to see the Irish raider managing to turn around the recent Sandown form.
Nicky Henderson may be avoiding this race with his stable star Altior, but the master of Seven Barrows will let Janika take his place in the line-up fresh from a spin over hurdles. Well beaten in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, Janika was previously seen over fences taking on the aforementioned duo of Defi Du Seuil and Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek, where he was a well-beaten fourth.
Nine lengths behind Defi Du Seuil at Sandown, Janika has shown some smart form over the larger obstacles this season, as he kicked off his campaign with a fine win in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, but with lots to find against the fancied pair in the betting, the seven-year-old is up against it.
Master Minded, Twist Magic and Dodging Bullets have been a trio of Paul Nicholls-trained winners of the Clarence House Chase in recent years, but while the Ditcheat handler may not have that sort of firepower to head to Ascot with he will still unleash the classy Capeland, who adds more depth to the five-strong entry list.
A facile 12-length winner at Ascot two starts ago in handicap company, Capeland struggled to land any sort of blow when fourth in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park in December, but a return to Ascot should see him perform much better and he can't be completely ruled out.
Dan Skelton's Marracudja will complete the quintet, and while he was an eye-catching winner of the Castleford Handicap Chase a Wetherby on his last start, two starts he was well beaten by Capeland at Ascot, so it's hard to see him pushing himself into the reckoning, and should be set for a minor role in a race that can be dominated by the front two in the betting.