The last three winners of the Clarence House Chase at Ascot have all gone on to take the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in the same year.
The event was first run as a handicap in 1989 when known as the Victor Chandler, and was won by the exceptional Desert Orchid. The race moved from handicap to a conditions race in 2007 and was awarded Grade 1 status. In its short yet illustrious history it has regularly attracted the best two mile chasers, and one of the most thrilling renewals came when still a handicap back in 2004.
The Arkle Chase winner Azertyuiop had to give an enormous 19lbs to Nicky Henderson’s talented chaser Isio. In a pulsating finish, the two battled head to head from the second-last fence with Henderson’s eight-year-old a neck to the good at the line. Nicholls’ classy chaser went one better at Cheltenham less than two months later when taking the Champion Chase.
The race has certainly favoured young improving chasers, with the last eight victories going to those aged eight and under. It’s no surprise then that the event has often gone to those who have performed well in the Arkle as a novice. Somersby came second in the Arkle Chase of 2010 and filled the same spot in this Ascot feature behind Master Minded in 2011. He went one better when winning the Clarence House in 2012 as an eight-year-old.
Master Minded was winning the race for the second time in 2011 having already been successful at the age of six in 2009. The exceptional two mile chaser had already won a Champion Chase by then.
Another outstanding Arkle winner took the race in 2013. Sprinter Sacre romped to victory in the Clarence House, a renewal re-routed to Cheltenham, before going on to victory in the Champion Chase. And in 2014 a fast improving Sire De Grugy took the race in testing conditions before backing up that win in the big one at Cheltenham.
Last year it was another rapidly improving young chaser that took the event at Ascot. Though Dodging Bullets had only managed fourth in the Arkle Chase as a novice, he had shown vast improvement to take the Tingle Creek, before winning this on route to victory in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
That brief synopsis highlights the exceptional record of improving young chasers in Saturday’s Clarence House Chase. Often Arkle winners, the race regularly goes to progressive unexposed chasers.
When looking at Saturday’s renewal, it’s impossible to ignore the one outstanding candidate for the race and understandably the short-priced favourite. Un De Sceaux, assuming he takes up the entry, arrives as last season’s Arkle winner and is yet to be defeated in any race under rules when successfully reaching the finishing line with a jockey still on-board.
There’s plenty out there that are crabbing his form and point to his jumping frailties, again evident when hitting the deck last time at Leopardstown. Nevertheless, he is the outstanding racehorse in the field; is relatively unexposed over fences; and an improving eight-year-old with that all-important Arkle victory on his CV.
Of course all the above does not guarantee victory for the all-conquering Willie Mullins. In opposition is a former winner of the race and the Champion Chaser of 2014; Gary Moore’s Sire De Grugy. He looks to be back to something near his best, indeed his trainer believes the 10-year-old is working as good as ever. One trend in his favour is the record of Tingle Creek winners who follow up with success in this. Six of the last seven that took the Sandown feature came here and won. The only one that didn’t was Sizing Europe, when he swerved Ascot in 2012.
Vibrato Valtat is also worth a mention. He is also an improving young chaser, though the limitations of his ability have been exposed in his last two races when third in both the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid. Should the top two fluff their lines, he is best placed to prosper.
In reality it has the look of a straight forward duel between the top two in the market. If Ruby can steer Un De Sceaux round without mishap, he’ll surely take some catching. However, in Sire De Grugy we have a top-class chaser more than capable of taking full advantage given the opportunity.
It should prove a thriller.