Inaugurated in 1999, the JNWine.com Champion Chase has become a season’s first port-of-call for many top-class staying chasers in Ireland, and in more recent times a race targeted by the powerful Paul Nicholls stable. The Grade 1 Chase is run at Down Royal, a venue steeped in history, where racing has taken place since the late 1600’s. The course is situated west of Lisburn, a short drive from Belfast in Northern Ireland. A right-handed undulating track, the race is run over a distance of 3 miles. In its relative short history, the race has been won by some of the greats. Beef or Salmon, Looks Like Trouble and Florida Pearl, have all been victorious. In 2007 Paul Nicholls sent Taranis over the Irish Sea to victory. It was the start of a campaign that has seen his horses dominate the race. The following year it was his greatest ever chaser Kauto Star that travelled over. He had lost the Cheltenham Gold Cup to Denman in March 2008, but went on to regain the crown just four months after his Down Royal success. Kauto Star travelled to Down Royal again in 2010, when he defeated the wonderful Irish chaser Sizing Europe. Last year the Nicholls team were represented by the enigmatic Kauto Stone. He kept up the family tradition by winning the race, defeating another wonderful Irish chaser in First Lieutenant. Paul Nicholls record in the JNwine.com Chase has become a formidable one; with wins in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012. My Will was second in the race in 2009 and The Nightingale third in 2011. This season’s renewal is set to be another terrific contest. The race has attracted a mix of established stars along with horses who have undoubted star potential. Sizing Europe is set to tackle the race for the third time. He finished second to Kauto Star in 2010 and filled the same spot behind Quito De La Roque the following year. The distance has looked slightly beyond him in his two previous attempts, most noticeably when caught nearing the line in 2011. He is a class horse, but at the age of 11 it is hard to see him finally winning this race. Quito De La Roque returns in an attempt to repeat his 2011 success. He clearly loves the race, having finished a close third last year. Soft ground will help his chances though I fancy he will once again find one or two opponents a little too good. First Lieutenant has an entry and if he runs is sure to go close. He couldn’t quite get to Kauto Stone in last year’s race and it seems likely that the two will be closely matched again. Lord Windermere arrives on the back of a win at the Cheltenham Festival in the RSA Novices’ Chase. Still a lightly raced horse he has the potential to have improved greatly after his summer break. Never out of the first three in his novice chase season, this will give the watching public a clue as to the strength of last year’s novice chasers. A dazzling display back in April at Punchestown ensures that Mount Benbulben arrives for this race as a well fancied runner. Seemingly far better going right-handed and well suited by soft ground, Gordon Elliott’s young chaser has always been highly thought of. He simply destroyed the assembled field of top novice chasers that day at Punchestown, and a repetition of that form should see him go very close . And so, back to the man who has dominated the race in recent times. Paul Nicholls relies on last year’s winner to continue his love affair with Down Royal. Kauto Stone clearly goes well fresh and is a seriously talented horse. He has won first time out at this meeting in both 2011 and 2012. He clearly loves the track and is sure to run another big race. All things point to a wonderfully exciting renewal. It would take a brave man to bet against another successful Ditcheat raid across the Irish Sea!
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