Who are our favourites for the Ascot Clarence House Steeplechase?
It’s that time of year again: the first Grade I race of the season charges towards the finish line with the Clarence House Chase. Set to show off the current best-of-the-best racers dominating the horse racing world, competition for the race is high, with former winners tangling with new favourites for a spectacle that promises to thrill – but who are the horses you need to look out for? We’ve got your back!
Class I races are only available to horses who have a high enough handicap, so most of the entrants for the Clarence House chase have a long, long list of other wins to make them ones to watch for the chase, however a few prominent standouts come to mind with three-time Clarence House Champion Un de Sceaux headlining the list, followed by Cheltenham veteran Altior, and Fox Norton, who holds a combined eight first-place wins in Cheltenham, Aintree, and Kempton.
Clarence House Chase: the Basics
The Clarence House Chase is only open to horses five years and older, and takes place at Ascot with a distance of 2 miles, 1 furlong to run, and thirteen obstacles to clear. Its inaugrual event was supposed to take place in 1987, but heavy snow pushed back the debut to 1989, where the first recorded winner, a ten-year-old grey gelding named Desert Orchid, took the purse.
There have only been two repeat winners in the history of the Clarence House Chase; one is Master Minded (2009, 2011), and the other is Un de Sceaux (2016-2018), both of which were ridden by legend-making jockey Ruby Walsh, who’s ridden the winning horse in the Clarence House Chase a record number of five times. Its elevation to a Grade I race is relatively recent; until 2007, it was still considered a handicap race, and while it set the tone for the racing season, it didn’t have the prestige it had today.
So, who are the horses fortune seems to be favouring?
Un de Sceaux
It’s impossible to write about Grade I racing and not mention Un de Sceaux; the 11-year-old bay gelding has swept the stakes in Grade I races before, and usually leaves his competitors breathing in his dust as he guns towards the finish line. Out of 19 runs, he’s only lost two, giving him an 89.5% win rate, and with the Clarence House Chase usually predicting early victory in future races, Un de Sceaux is not going to give his competitors an easy run for their money. Add to that the fact that he’s run and won the race three consecutive times, and backing him seems like an easy way to a sure thing.
That in mind, Un de Sceaux has lost before to both Altior (Tinglestown 2018) and Fox Norton (Punchestown, 2017), and it might not be as easy as just pointing him in the right direction and saying ‘go’. Altior is a superb jumper, and last year’s Tinglestown victory came with the hindrance of soft going, so Un de Sceaux might find himself struggling this year again if the weather has anything to say about it.
Altior is an unbeaten powerhouse with an 11/11 chase victory that puts him a cut above the rest even though he might not have the experience that the other horses do; every race he’s run, through a combination of jockey, conditioning, and training, has had him soaring up the ranks to headline any race he features in. He’s an odds-on favourite, and combined with the tactics and hard-paced training of Nicky Henderson, it’s no wonder that he stands as a firm favourite first place winner.
His win rate is unchallenged, and his training is undeniable, however Altior’s emergency larynx surgery which put his future in racing in a spiral for 2017-2018; he might find the hard pace set by Un de Sceaux and Fox Norton too heavy to take on, and so could pull out of the race at the last minute.
Un de Sceaux and Fox Norton have been neck and neck in previous races, and this year might be no different. Fresh off having to bow out of the Cheltenham Festival last year, Fox Norton is raring to go and has a lot to prove since his racing record has taken a 398-day dip ever since he’s been in recovery from his leg injury. Last year’s showing showed that he was only a narrow step below Un de Sceaux, and if trainer Colin Tizzard has put all of his training experience into shaping Fox Norton for this season, he could be the surprise victory that knocks Un de Sceaux’ Clarence House crown.
Then again, there’s that foot injury to contend with; yes, Fox Norton has been out of the running for over a year, but the weather could hinder Fox Norton’s chances again if the going aggravates his injury.
So who should I back?
While Fox Norton could still sweep in and surprise punters with a last-minute victory, the odds are currently firmly in the favour of Altior, who has never been beaten in a chase race before, and if one of his miraculous bursts of energy happens at the right time, we could be looking at an unseated victor and a new feather in Altior’s cap. However, three-time winner Un de Sceaux could surprise: the Clarence House chase is old ground for him, and with that legacy behind him, a fourth-time win isn’t too far left field.
As always with horse racing, the odds will vary, and come race day, they could be completely different to what they are now; weather, going, and training will all effect who and what horse sweeps the stakes at the end, so keep up with the shifting odds with Mr Green, and see which way the wind is blowing.