With one powerful, strident finish, Defi Du Seuil laid claim to the favourite’s tag ahead of this year’s Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The Clarence House Chase at Ascot offered the perfect opportunity for trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Barry Geraghty to show Defi Du Seuil’s true qualities, and he did that in fine style, streaking home by a distance of nearly three lengths.
The performance saw Defi Du Seuil leap to the position of favourite for the Champion Chase in the latest odds for betting on Cheltenham 2020, consigning the highly-fancied Altior to second-favourite. It was a storming display and a major statement of intent ahead of one of racing’s biggest events of the year.
“Obviously we were very hopeful we might win again, but I couldn’t imagine he was going to win that easily,” said trainer Hobbs after the race.
“It was dazzling and breathtaking,” added Geraghty. “I love riding him. He’s not the biggest in the world but has so much scope. He’s up for it and that’s what you love about good two-mile chasers.”
It was the latest victory in a series of fine triumphs for Defi Du Seuil this season, which has included wins in the Cheltenham Chase in November and the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown the following month. Both the Sandown victory and this latest win at Ascot came by way of pipping the Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux to the post – proof that Defi Du Seuil is more than able to dominate against the big names.
In fact, Hobbs’ seven-year-old has only lost twice since December 2018. Those defeats came in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day last year and the Novice Chase at Punchestown in May. For the latter, Richard Johnson was in the saddle as opposed to usual rider Geraghty. Apart from that, it’s been a remarkable run for Defi Du Seuil, and one that Hobbs will hope is leading towards a big result at Cheltenham in March.
Of course, there will be stiff competition if he is to land the victory in the Champion Chase. Altior’s qualities as a chaser are well documented, and he was on a fine unbeaten run before an untimely loss to Cyrname in November’s 1965 Chase at Ascot. While fitness concerns have plagued Altior in recent months, there will be a fierce determination in trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Nico de Boinville to reassert Altior’s dominance and claim a third Champion Chase victory in a row. It will be interesting to see how Defi Du Seuil handles the significance of taking on Altior in such a high-profile race.
Of course, there are other strong contenders that can’t be ignored. Chacun Pour Soi, and Cilaos Emery – both trained by Mullins – are among the leading contenders in the odds for the race, and each will be eager to cause something of an upset.
Speaking after the recent win at Ascot, Geraghty said that he was rubbing his hands at the prospect of the Cheltenham showdown: “I’m relishing the chance to win the Champion Chase again and the dream is alive. Altior is a superstar but if that’s the race Defi goes for, you look forward to it.”
All Defi Du Seuil’s team can do is focus on themselves, and focus on making sure the horse is in the best possible shape when the Festival comes round. He has put himself right in contention to land another fine victory. The question now is whether or not Defi Du Seuil can live up to the hype.