'Emery' can end Mullins' Champion wait
The Cheltenham Champion Chase market became even more confusing yesterday with Philip Hobbs declaring that Defi Du Seuil (7/2) may switch to the longer Ryanair Chase in order to avoid meeting reigning champion Altior (3/1 favourite).
Defi Du Seuil's latest test awaits this weekend with a tantalising rematch against Un De Sceaux in the Clarence House Chase but Hobbs hopes "we don't have to take Altior on" and may take preventative action if he sees fit.
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It's the latest twist to a market in a state of flux, much of it revolving around the fitness of Altior with Nicky Henderson's dual Champion Chase winner, out of action since losing his 19-race unbeaten record.
Henderson aborted plans to step the 10-year-old up in trip for the King George after that defeat in November and an abscess resulted in the High Chaparral gelding missing his intended Christmas engagement.
It may be two months until his bid for an extraordinary fifth straight Festival triumph but his interrupted preparations are a serious worry and next month's Game Spirit Chase at Newbury will tell a lot about him.
Another horse with an uncertain Festival engagement is A Plus Tard (8/1) - a runaway handicap chase winner at the Cotswolds last season - with Henry de Bromhead leaning towards the Ryanair Chase.
Having already won there over 2m4f, that makes sense but his defeat of Willie Mullins' much-hyped Chacun Pour Soi over 2m at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting could force a change of mind.
Should he do likewise at the Dublin Racing Festival, the Waterford trainer may change tack and see if he can join Sizing Europe (2011) and Special Tiara (2017) as champion chasers.
Chacun Pour Soi (4/1) is still half the price of his Christmas conqueror despite a decisive defeat with many pointing to the lack of a prep run and basking in his stunning performance at last year's Punchestown Festival.
There's little value given his latest reversal and a horse that has gone under the radar is Mullins' Cilaos Emery (8/1). Favourite for the Arkle last year before being ruled out with a minor setback, the eight-year-old has done nothing wrong over fences.
Already a Grade Two winner, he will pit his wits against many of these at the Dublin Racing Festival and is an unexposed type open to any amount of improvement. In a volatile market, he may be the one to hand the Cloutton maestro a first Champion Chase.