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Defi Du Seuil enjoys dream Champion Chase prep in blockbuster Clarence House

If this was not the performance of a Champion Chase winner in waiting then such a thing simply does not exist after Defi Du Seuil finally usurped Altior at the head of the market for Cheltenham's day two highlight with a performance at Ascot on Saturday that had the hallmarks of a quite exceptional two-mile chaser.

Connections of the bold-jumping winner, who has made winning his number one habit since joining Philip Hobbs in Somerset from France in 2016, have been reluctant to go gung-ho for the Betway-backed Champion Chase since his Tingle Creek success in December and only last week reiterated that the Ryanair Chase could yet be the target come March.

Yet Defi Du Seuil surely took that decision out of their hands after leaving three-time Clarence House Chase winner Un De Sceaux in his wake with a daredevil leap at the second-last that sent him to the front and bounding towards a 14th success from 20 starts and a seventh at Grade 1 level.

If their first clash in a Tingle Creek that was decided in a photo-finish was a blockbuster, the rematch between Defi Du Seuil and Un De Sceaux saw a performance worthy of an Oscar by the winner, whose regular rider Barry Geraghty was merely going through the motions after another show-stopping leap at the last.

He now heads to Cheltenham off a perfect three-from-three record this season and, with the campaign of reigning champion Altior limited to his first defeat in 20 and a string of absence notes, bookmakers rightly promoted Defi Du Seuil to outright favourite for the Champion Chase.

BetVictor and bet365 go as short as 7-4 (from 3), although the majority of bookmakers offer 2-1, with Altior a best-price 7-2.

Having won the Champion Chase five times, including with luminaries Moscow Flyer and Sprinter Sacre, Geraghty was the perfect person to assess the winner's big-race credentials after a win that left him giddy like a teenager in love.

"It was dazzling and breathtaking," said 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.

"Moscow Flyer wasn't the biggest or flashiest but he was up for it and so is this lad."

After Defi Du Seuil had idled in front at Sandown, Geraghty had planned to play his hand as late as possible but his partner had other ideas, jumping his way alongside Un De Sceaux over the early fences, only for Geraghty to rein him back.

Un De Sceaux, 12 years young and still with an unquenchable zest for his racing, made things a little easier with his own swashbuckling leap at the seventh that sent him into a clear lead but he was unable to take Defi Du Seuil out of his comfort zone, and the referee would have stepped in after the second last had this been a boxing bout.

"Good horses make themselves known and that is what he did at the second last," said Geraghty. "All of a sudden I was in front and thinking this wasn't plan A but when you're in front and running away, you're happy enough."

Asked if he was looking forward to a Cheltenham dust-up with Altior, he added: "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." 

The winning trainer, who won the Champion Chase with Flagship Uberalles in 2002, tried his best to not entirely dismiss the Ryanair but there was no real conviction in his words and he, like the rest of us, started to dream about the Champion.

"Obviously we were very hopeful that he might go and win again but I couldn't imagine he would go and do it that easily," said Hobbs.

"We still have the option of the Ryanair because he's still in it but I suppose, with the pace he showed there, the Champion Chase is a bit more likely.

"To be honest, I think he can go any trip and it doesn't really matter. He'll go straight to Cheltenham now and, having done that today, the Champion Chase becomes more likely but he could go three miles if you wanted to.

"He's only just turned seven and, touchwood, he's always been a very sound horse up to now and we hope he can go on doing it for some time yet."

After a performance like this, so do the rest of us. Roll on Cheltenham. 

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