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Hales has full confidence in Politologue

Owner John Hales is confident Politologue will prove hard to beat in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase.

The Paul Nicholls-trained grey appeared to be on the decline after he was found to have broken blood vessels when suffering his sixth successive defeat in the 2019 Tingle Creek at Sandown.

However, he roared back to his best when following in the hoofprints One Man and Azertyuiop to provide his owner with a third victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, and then picked up where he left off by bagging a second Tingle Creek last month – three years after his first.

Hales hopes his latest crack two-miler will finally be given the credit he deserves if he can add another Grade One success to his CV at Ascot on Saturday – a race in which Azertyuiop came up narrowly short when conceding lumps of weight to Isio in an epic renewal 17 years ago.

Hales said: “He’s very well, and I think he deserves to be favourite after what he did in the Tingle Creek and the Queen Mother before that. I’m not sure what the combined distance of those two wins were, but it must be a fair way.

“He’s always been a magnificent jumper. The season before last, his form was a little bit indifferent, and he didn’t run very well in the Tingle Creek – after which we found out he was bleeding. It’s possible that he’d bled before, and we didn’t pick it up.

“What people seem to have missed is Paul changed his training routine after that, and at the same time he has improved out of all recognition – he’s a different horse.

“We have no concern at all about the ground. He’s a genuine two-and-a-half-mile horse, which you need to be around Cheltenham, and you’ll need to be on Saturday.”

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Harry Skelton partnered Politologue at Cheltenham and at Sandown – but with the rider’s brother Dan training Nube Negra for this season’s Champion Chase, Skelton has given up the mount, meaning Harry Cobden will be reunited with Politologue this weekend.

“Harry Skelton has done a great job for me, and I’m very sorry to see him go,” Hales added.

“It was Harry’s decision. His brother has this horse to run against us in the Queen Mother – and he’s got to ride him, hasn’t he?

“I’m very happy to have Harry Cobden riding our horse, so I’m not complaining.”

Politologue and Harry Cobden in the 2017 Tingle Creek
Politologue and Harry Cobden in the 2017 Tingle Creek (Julian Herbert/PA)

Cobden is looking forward to renewing the partnership with Politologue, having won the Tingle Creek on him in 2017.

He said: “Politologue is the favourite going into it, and I’m just delighted to be back on him.

“Everything he has done since the Tingle Creek last season has been great. The training performance for the Champion Chase was unbelievable. Paul came in one morning and said ‘I’m going to train his horse differently’ – he rewrote all his rules.

“I schooled him Monday, and he jumped great. I saw him work on Thursday morning – and although I didn’t ride him, he seemed in fantastic form, he was very bullish and looked a million dollars.

“I wouldn’t get off Politologue to ride any of the others in the race, because he is the form horse going into it.”

Defi Du Seuil (right) saw off Un De Sceaux in last year's Clarence House Chase
Defi Du Seuil (right) saw off Un De Sceaux in last year’s Clarence House Chase (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Politologue’s rivals include his stablemate Duc Des Genievres and Philip Hobbs’ stable star Defi Du Seuil, who was a red-hot favourite for the Champion Chase after denying the now-retired Un De Sceaux a fourth Clarence House success 12 months ago.

The JP McManus-owned gelding disappointed at the Cheltenham Festival and was pulled up on his seasonal reappearance at Prestbury Park in November, but jockey Richard Johnson hopes he will show his true colours this weekend.

He said: “I was at Phillip’s and schooled him on Wednesday morning, and he was very good. Let’s hope the winners we’ve had recently are a good omen and that Defi can put his last run behind him.

“He’s in good form at home and he’s been given all the time in the world. He feels in rude health, and we go full of hope.

“He’ll have to pull out his A-game, because he’s up against some good horses. He feels sharp at home, wanting to take on the fences – and he’s still a young horse.”

Former Ascot Chase winner Waiting Patiently was supplemented earlier this week, having made an excellent return from more than a year on the sidelines when runner-up to Frodon in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The talented but fragile 10-year-old has proven his versatility over a variety of distances, and trainer Ruth Jefferson is unconcerned by dropping back almost a mile in trip.

Speaking on a call hosted by Great British Racing, she said: “The ground at Kempton was the fastest I would have run him on, and we’re at the opposite of that spectrum on Saturday – but he’s got form on heavy ground, and I don’t see it being a problem.

“He’s performed at every trip on every sort of going description. It’s a case of him not being the easiest horse to keep sound and healthy – so while we’ve got a sound and healthy horse, we’re going to take our chance to run him.

“I can’t see why the trip will bother the horse, so I’m not going to let it bother me.

“I think there’s less pressure in our situation, because nobody expects you to win – you’re just that small person who might rock up!

“I don’t get excited and I don’t get nervous. You don’t go into a Grade One thinking you’re going to win it, but I think there’s a lot in his favour because he’s versatile trip-wise, he’ll like the ground and likes the track.”

Kim Bailey steps First Flow up in class following five consecutive wins, while Bun Doran (Tom George), Fanion D’Estruval (Venetia Williams) and Le Patriote (Dr Richard Newland) complete the eight-strong field.

Walsh reflects on Clarence House king Un De Sceaux

Outside of the Cheltenham Festival, few Irish-trained jumps horses have captured the hearts of racing fans in recent seasons in quite the way Un De Sceaux did throughout his illustrious career.

A regular in all the top chases under three miles, the Willie Mullins-trained gelding was a firm favourite – with his heart-on-the-sleeve front-running tactics helping him strike at Grade One level on 10 occasions before his retirement last year.

Though a dual winner at the Festival with victories in the 2015 Arkle and 2017 Ryanair Chase, it was his domination of the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, which he claimed for the first time five years ago, that really set him apart.

Regular rider Ruby Walsh was on board that day and despite having parted company with the O’Connell family’s pride and joy at Leopardstown on his previous start, he was confident compensation awaited in a race Un De Sceaux would make his own.

Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh on their way to victory at Ascot
Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh on their way to victory at Ascot (Julian Herbert/PA)

Walsh said: “I had looked for a big jump at Leopardstown, he changed his mind and didn’t get high enough in front and tipped over. I wasn’t really that conscious of it going to Ascot.

“We knew he was a hell of a good horse. I didn’t have any worries about his jumping.

“He jumped really well at Ascot that day and he was taking on Sire De Grugy, who had won the Tingle Creek that season. Though it was a compact field, it was a pretty decent race.

“He popped out, went a nice gallop, without going mad, and he was still going real easy when he faced up to the second-last, which he jumped well. Sire De Grugy appeared on his inside, but he picked up well going down to the last and ended up winning quite impressively.”

The reaction of a crowd can be a good guide as to what type of spectacle they have witnessed – and judging by the roar Walsh and Un De Sceaux received from those in the stands, it was clear they had seen a truly unique performance.

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Walsh added: “They did see something special at Ascot that day. I always enjoyed riding at Ascot and even though it is such a vast arena, it always had a way of capturing the atmosphere and I think that is huge at any racecourse.

“We were looking for him to stamp himself as a live Champion Chase horse and he most certainly did that day.”

A rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre would consign Un De Sceaux to the runner-up spot in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at that year’s Festival, but his next visit to Cheltenham in January 2017 would result in the defence of his Clarence House crown, with the race rescheduled due to a frozen track at Ascot the previous week.

Un De Sceaux won a rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham
Un De Sceaux won a rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham (Julian Herbert/PA)

Walsh said: “To be fair, that was a great trial of the horse as he went to Ascot, came back home, then went back to Cheltenham the following weekend and still managed to win. That just shows you what kind of an iron horse he was.

“As a performance, it probably wasn’t as good as his first one, but when you factor in how much travelling he had done, he did incredibly well to win.

“That is another thing very good horses do – even when things aren’t going right, they still put in a good performance and be competitive.”

Although a broken leg would rule Walsh out of attempting a third Clarence House win aboard Un De Sceaux in 2019, he was among those willing on his old ally from the sidelines.

He added: “For sure I was cheering him on. Even when you are injured, you are still part of the team.

“Paul (Townend) rode him that day at Ascot and a bit like his second year, he didn’t look spectacular. The older he got, the less spectacular he became, but he still managed to win.”

Un De Sceaux’s bid for a fourth victory in the race last year was scuppered by Defi Du Seuil, with connections subsequently calling time on his career at the age of 12.

Walsh ranks him among the best he has ridden and added: “He was a bit of a hero to a lot of people and his owners, the O’Connells, got a lot of enjoyment out of him, which was great to see. He is back in France enjoying a happy retirement, which he thoroughly deserves.

“I rode some horses that I considered to have the potential to be great, but never got to become greats as they had short careers.

“You need to have longevity to be a wonderful horse and that is what Un De Sceaux was – his enthusiasm and his consistency was incredible.”

:: On comparing Un De Sceaux with the great two-milers he has ridden:

Ruby Walsh enjoyed great success with Master Minded
Ruby Walsh enjoyed great success with Master Minded (David Davies/PA)

“It’s impossible to cross-compare horses from Ayzertiyoup to Kauto Star to Twist Magic to Master Minded, Un De Sceaux and Douvan. I rode a lot of good two-milers.

“I’m just grateful they all came one after another and they didn’t come at the same time. Some people would have loved to have seen all these horses in one race together, but I’m just glad they came one after another and that I got the chance to ride them all.”

:: On watching the Ascot race growing up:

Viking Flagship is one of the famous names on the Ascot roll of honour
Viking Flagship is one of the famous names on the Ascot roll of honour (Barry Batchelor/PA)

“It was a race I grew up watching the likes of Viking Flagship racing in it on the BBC. It was a race that definitely helped me want to be a jockey.

“It was one of those races you watched on a Saturday and you were waiting for it, as it is a thrilling contest.

“One of my earliest memories of it was watching Desert Orchid beating Panto Prince as a kid and then thinking ‘imagine being part of that’.”

:: On the toughness of Un De Sceaux:

“In Britain he won twice at the Festival, a Tingle Creek, three Clarence Houses, and he ran in the Celebration Chase at Sandown.

“He was not quite a globetrotter like Magic Wand on the Flat, but he did move around a fair bit as he raced in Auteuil a good bit as well.

“He did rack up the miles and it is not as straightforward for a horse to travel like a human, so it was fair going out of him.”

Harry Cobden takes over on Politologue at Ascot

Harry Cobden will be back aboard Politologue in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday, after Harry Skelton agreed to relinquish the ride.

Skelton steered the Paul Nicholls-trained grey to victory in both the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last season and the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December.

However, Skelton is set to have a clash of interests when it comes to this year’s Champion Chase in March. He is stable jockey to his brother Dan and they have a leading contender in Nube Negra, who defeated Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton last month.

Harry Skelton celebrates winning the Champion Chase with Politologue
Harry Skelton celebrates winning the Champion Chase with Politologue (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Skeltons, and their father, Olympic showjumper Nick, are long-standing friends of Politologue’s owner John Hales. They are believed to have discussed the matter, resulting in Skelton giving up the ride.

Nicholls confirmed to the PA news agency Cobden will be back in the plate for Politologue’s last race before he defends his Champion Chase crown.

Cobden has ridden Politologue six times, winning the Tingle Creek in 2017 and finishing second to Altior in the Champion Chase in 2019.

Politologue is the 5-4 favourite with Coral for the Ascot feature, ahead of King George third Waiting Patiently at 5-2.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “Politologue gave Harry Skelton his biggest win when the pair won last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, but it will be Harry Cobden on board the grey this weekend and at the Cheltenham Festival, although Harry Skelton still has a chance of winning the race again this March, with Nube Negra one of the leading contenders at 10-1.”

Waiting Patiently enters Clarence House reckoning

Waiting Patiently is set to make a surprise appearance in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase, after being supplemented for the Grade One over an extended two miles at Ascot.

Connections of the Ruth Jefferson-trained gelding decided to add him to the field at the five-day confirmation stage for Saturday’s feature, because he had taken his run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day so well.

The lightly-raced 10-year-old, owned by Richard Collins, finished strongly to take second place behind Frodon in the Christmas showpiece on his first start since December 2019.

That race was over three miles. But Waiting Patiently is versatile trip wise and will appreciate the rain, between 24 and 27 centimetres, which is forecast this week between Monday evening and Thursday on ground already described as soft.

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“He came out of the King George really well, ridiculously well, in himself,” said Jefferson.

“I was mad with myself I didn’t enter him in the first place – and we felt a couple of weeks ago if he was all right, and there was plenty of rain about, we’d have a crack at it.

“It gives us a bit more time to think about Cheltenham rather than wait for the Ascot Chase (next month). We might go for that race, but we thought we’d run him while he was well in himself – and it frees up other options.

“They might get a frost but they are due about 25 millimetres of rain first at Ascot, so it’s going to be right up his street ground wise. He handles it better than most.”

His nine potential rivals are headed by Politologue. The Paul Nicholls-trained grey won last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, and made a successful seasonal debut in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last month.

Politologue heads the 10 five-day entries for the Ascot Grade One
Politologue heads the 10 confirmations for the Ascot Grade One (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Also in the mix is last year’s winner Defi Du Seuil, trained by Philip Hobbs. The eight-year-old has not run since disappointing in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November.

Nicholls also has Duc Des Genievres in the list, while Jessica Harrington’s Impact Factor is the sole Irish-trained possible.

Completing the list are Benatar, Bun Doran, Fanion D’Estruval, First Flow and Le Patriote.

Riders Onthe Storm and Sizing Pottsie were the two scratchings from the entry stage.

Politologue on course for Clarence House Chase

Politologue heads 12 entries for the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase at Ascot on January 23.

The Paul Nicholls-trained grey won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March and took the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on his reappearance last month.

Nicholls is also represented by Duc De Genievres, who has been placed in the Shloer Chase and Desert Orchid Chase since his move from Willie Mullins.

Jessica Harrington provides the two Irish-trained possibles in Impact Factor and Sizing Pottsie, who both won handicap chases at Fairyhouse on their latest starts.

Last year’s winner Defi Du Seuil could return to action for the first time since his disappointing run in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on November.

The Philip Hobbs-trained gelding was pulled up before the last fence when beaten. Nothing came to light and the eight-year-old has either the Clarence House or the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury next month as the target for his comeback race.

“He seems fine. He didn’t perform on the day for some reason, but nothing showed up,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“He’s had a bit of a break and hopefully he’ll be back in time for that (Ascot). He has an entry, but we’ll know nearer the time how he is.

“He has the Game Spirit as his other option.”

The Kim Bailey-trained First Flow, winner of his last five races, could be given this Grade One opportunity. Completing the list are Benator, Bun Doran, Esprit Du Large, Fanion D’Estruval, Le Patriote and Riders Onthe Storm.

Ascot option for First Flow

Kim Bailey is weighing up his options for prolific winner First Flow – which include the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

The durable eight-year-old landed Wetherby’s Castleford Chase in typically game fashion on Sunday, never looking likely to win until close home.

That was a fifth win in a row, taking his record over fences to six successes from 10 starts and therefore fully deserving a step up in class.

“Bizarrely there are actually quite a few races suitable for him between now and the end of February,” said Bailey.

“There’s a handicap at Sandown, the Grade One at Ascot and there’s races at Newbury and Doncaster also – so there are three or four to consider.

“He loves heavy ground. But Wetherby was an extraordinary performance really – I doubt the ground has ever been as bad there, because (jockey) David Bass said it made Ffos Las look quite good!”

First Flow looked in trouble at various stages, but got the job done again in the end.

Bailey added: “It wasn’t great to watch, but it was a phenomenal performance – especially when you consider he was playing catch-up because the leader (Maracudja) got such a flying start.

“I thought that had been outlawed – if he’d won I might have complained!

“That’s five in a row he’s won, and he’s a complete freak.

“I’m so pleased for his owner Tony Solomons, because he’s been with me since my second season training, and the last horse he had with me was Harry Topper. He’s loving it.”

Defi Du Seuil won the race last year but disappointed on his seasonal bow
Defi Du Seuil won the race last year but disappointed on his seasonal bow (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

First Flow is one of 12 entries for the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase, with last year’s victor Defi Du Seuil in the mix to defend his title after pulling up on his seasonal return at Cheltenham in November.

Reigning champion chaser Politologue is one of two contenders for Paul Nicholls along with Duc Des Genievres, and Jessica Harrington is also potentially double-handed with Sizing Pottsie and Impact Factor.

Benatar, Bun Doran, Esprit Du Large, Fanion D’Estruval, Le Patriote and Riders Onthe Storm complete the list of contenders.