Tanya Stevenson: Hughes to Wait Patiently and claim Clarence House glory

Waiting Patiently is a leading contender for Saturday's Clarence House Chase.
Waiting Patiently is a leading contender for Saturday's Clarence House Chase.

Our new columnist Tanya Stevenson talks about her Clarence House Chase memories, takes an in-depth look at Saturday's Grade 1 at Ascot and picks out her best bet for the Champion Chase trial...

The insatiable craving for Cheltenham Festival clues is heightened courtesy of a whole raft of Saturday’s runners and the marquee race, Ascot’s Grade 1 Clarence House Chase.  Do you sit down and think if Politologue were to win, how much would his odds contract for the Champion Chase?  What about Waiting Patiently, if he were victorious, where next? Willie Mullins would certainly be happy.  And if Defi Du Seuil were to bounce back, would you be ruing missed value in his price at Ascot or chasing after cramped odds in March?  If none of the above oblige, then where does it leave us come Cheltenham?  Always worth pausing a few minutes and contemplating before any investment or griping after time.

Hopefully, I can unearth the answers and a few early pointers as the countdown to the focal point in March becomes ever closer.  An exciting prospect for my debut on the website.  What a way to start than none other than the Clarence House Chase containing an octet who between them have won 63 races, 13 of which are Grade 1s and a total of £2,663,657 in win and place prize money.  

Back in 1989 when it was first run as a handicap chase, I was actually there to witness the iconic battle between Desert Orchid and Panto Prince.  I seem to recall an infinite pay out queue at the family’s pitch and the torn tickets could have supplied a whole stationary store with recycled notepads for quite a while.  It’s only years after with pocket muted you appreciate the achievement of what has gone before.   Isio v Azertyuiop in 2004 was another epic contest, one where the tape is virtually worn through replays, and one that did not stop the latter going on to Queen Mother Champion Chase glory for owner John Hales.

17 years on, John Hales' Politologue sits at the top of the betting for Clarence House glory, the ten-year-old, a veteran of five Cheltenham Festivals and already a Champion Chase under his belt, he looks on paper, the likely winner.  It is rare, however, for reigning Champion Chasers to run in Ascot’s prize.  Only done three times previously, Viking Flagship could only manage fifth in 1995, while Master Minded 2009 and Altior 2019 came away with the Grade 1 kudos.  

The race is all very different now as in 2007 it was changed from a handicap, to a conditions race and a Grade 1 at that.  Weights are no longer conceded like the heroes had done 1989 to 2006, which doesn’t leave a whim of ‘if only’.  Plus, with the stats that I have put together, there is a realisation its best to concentrate in the now.  Under its present guise favourites have found this a bonanza with 10 of the last 13 finding the winners enclosure.  That’s in Politologue’s favour, so to the recent record of Tingle Creek winners, since 2007 11 winners of Sandown’s big race have come on to the Clarence House with nine victorious and the other two finishing runner-up.  His trainer Paul Nicholls has won the race a record five times.  The only issue is that since its inception back in 1989 there have only been three winners aged over nine. 

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A snag also for the supplemented Waiting Patiently, connections have had a £5000 punt on him which could well be worth it should he finished third or better.  The stalking way that Brian Hughes will ride him makes a big pay day highly possible.  The only time this fragile performer has finished out the first three is when unseating in the 2018 King George VI Chase.   Plus check out the list who have finished ahead of him in four grade 1s since then.  Min, Politologue, Cyrname, Defi Du Seuil, Un de Sceaux and last time out Frodon.   Quite a who’s who of superstardom!  So should Ruth Jefferson’s raider be favourite?  It’s the distance that is the issue, there’s no qualms from me regarding his ability, yes in does accelerate off a standing start better than most the King George and the 2019 Tingle Creek proved that but I sense he needs a good pace set up front and there’s one horse to rely on there to which Charlie Deutsch and Venetia will hold the key.  On to that in a min.  When he ran in the 2019 Tingle Creek he was only a length behind Defi Du Seuil and 17 lengths ahead of Politologue.

What about last year’s winner Defi Du Seuil, many have put a line through him after one run.  Well in fairness it’s actually two runs, his defeat in last year’s Champion Chase and him then pulling up in November’s Shloer Chase has knocked the aura of immortality.  His latest defeat can be put down to stable form which was poor, it was better in December, then regressed in early January it might have turned a corner on Wednesday.  Best not lose sight of the fact Defi is a 7-time Grade 1 winner.  Even a horse of his prowess needs to bounce back considerably in a race like this not having raced for ten weeks.  Un de Sceaux won the Clarence House three times on the bounce but he came into the race oozing confidence and in form.  There’s enough doubt to put me off.

The prolific First Flow, moves up the ladder to the top echelon, he loves heavy, yet still for now he is better conceding weight to inferior rivals.  Duc Des Genievres remains a mystery, the 2019 Arkle Trophy winner didn’t succeed in a vintage year and has since been found wanting in Grade 2 let alone at this level.  

Bun Doran has been to three Festivals, with the picks a second in 2019 Grand Annual and third to Politologue in the 2020 Champion Chase.  He wouldn’t want it too soft, plus he might find it hard coming from behind Waiting Patiently.  I’m a huge fan of Le Patriote, he has landed me some good wins but this even for him is a step too far. 

That leaves us with Fanion D’Estruval who burst on to the British scene in November 2019 with an emphatic Newbury success, he was immediately thrown into the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, too much too soon or was something up as he wasn’t seen for almost a year, 322 days in fact.  An excellent second at Cheltenham on return, then for me he was going well when falling last time out.  He would, for me, be seen to better effect if allowed to set off in front and build his confidence through the duration of the race.  Now woh there I'm not saying he will win, I am saying I feel he hasn’t reached the ceiling of his rating, there’s improvement to come, providing the dead eight stand their ground he could be value to get a place!

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So in summary, since 1989 seven Clarence House Chase winners had gone on to win the Champion Chase, with a further six also runs from Ascot going on to glory at Cheltenham.  However, this year I select Waiting Patiently’s versatility, with wily Brian Hughes to sit behind and pounce come the last, with fingers tightly crossed Fanion D’Estruval can hang on for third.  Then it’s a case of holding off for Cheltenham if the selection does oblige, it’s not his course.  

Unless Defi Du Seuil wins by a long way I doubt any of Ascot’s 8 will go on to Festival glory and providing Covid or Brexit paperwork doesn’t prevent Irish Raiders coming to Cheltenham then Chacun Pour Soi or Put The Kettle On are my early thoughts for Champion Chase glory.  

I mentioned other Festival clues, now Epatante bubble has been burst for now, its no surprise to see the return of Buveur D’Air and the urgency to get a run into him gives the vibe he is thriving more than ever.  It’s not the strongest of line-up in for the Champion Hurdle and just for a bit of mischief I’ve had a small each-way interest on the dual Champion Hurdler.  Don’t expect to see fireworks in a three horse tactical Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.  He is long odds-on to oblige, but if he wins I suspect he will shorten to single figures to regain his crown.

Roksana and Magic Of Light throw up an intriguing contest at Ascot, the former should be too speedy for Magic Of Light but Jessie Harrington’s mare is attempting a hat-trick of wins in the race in what should be an ideal Grand National prep.  Roksana could be value in the Stayers’ prior to lining up.  She’s already put in a massive run in the Long Walk.

Supreme fifth Allart made a real impression on his chasing debut at Ascot, there’s an opportunity for him to build on his reputation at Haydock in their first race should the meeting go ahead, not that I suggest taking the odds for that contest, instead the double figure price for the Marsh Novices' Chase at Cheltenham look attractive.

Clarence House Chase
Waiting Patiently silk

Waiting Patiently

Cheltenham Festival Races
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