Henderson currently shares the record of being the leading trainer in the race with three wins, but Paul Nicholls has the opportunity to move ahead of him on Friday, with Politologue bidding to follow up his determined win in this race 12 months ago.
Politologue recorded a pair of Grade 1 successes last season, getting the better of a sustained duel with Min to win this race by a neck on the latter occasion. He added the 1965 Chase to his tally on his reappearance at Ascot in November, and, though winless in three subsequent starts, he ran right up to his best when one and three quarter lengths second to Altior in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham last time. That form is amongst the best on offer here – few other horses have ever got as close to Altior – and this versatile performer is unlikely to give up his crown lightly, provided that he is fully recovered from those exertions just 23 days on.
Min will be in opposition once again, though he has something to prove having produced a flat effort when fifth in the Champion Chase last time. Willie Mullins’ charge is clearly better than that – there is not much between him and Politologue on ratings – but the fact remains that his very best efforts have come over two miles, and the likelihood is that last year’s winner will be able to uphold the form over this trip.
Hell's Kitchen has long since left the impression that he possesses plenty of ability, and finally put it all together with an authoritative victory in a handicap at Ascot in December. His trainer stated that he suffered a slight setback after, but Hell’s Kitchen was far from disgraced on his return from a short break when finishing fourth in the Champion Chase over an inadequate two miles. The return to this intermediate trip will be in his favour and it would be no surprise if he out runs his odds.
The Ruth Jefferson-trained Waiting Patiently has endured a frustrating campaign, failing to complete through no fault of his own on his return in the King George Vl Chase at Kempton in December, still travelling well when hampered and unseating his rider at the ninth, and shaped as though he was in need of the run when comprehensively beaten by Cyrname in the Ascot Chase last time – a race he had won 12 months earlier. He will go in first-time cheekpieces now, and will be one of the main dangers to Politologue provided the ground isn’t too quick.
Top Notch has been mixing it both over hurdles and fences this season, coming on for his reappearance and showing he is no slouch back in this sphere when winning a listed event at Kempton (by five lengths from Black Corton) in January. He failed to run his race in the Stayers’ Hurdle since, but he will be much happier back over these larger obstacles now and he should be thereabouts.
God’s Own and Woodland Opera complete the line-up. The first-named was pulled up sharply before the last when looking like being placed again in the Champion Chase last time. It is encouraging that he is back out so quickly, but he seemingly is no longer capable of the top-class form that saw him win this race in 2016. Woodland Opera looked better than ever when winning the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran by 10 lengths from Grand National hope Jury Duty in October, and finished a respectable second to Road To Respect in a Grade 1 over three miles on his next start, but even that form leaves him with a bit to find with the principals here.
In summary, Politologue proved much too game for the strong-travelling Min when edging out that rival in this race 12 months ago and he is taken to repeat the feat having looked as good as ever when second to Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last time. It would also be no surprise if Hell’s Kitchen were in the mix now back over a more suitable trip.
Back Politologue at 5/2 in the JLT Chase at Aintree on Friday