Politologue produced the upset of Ladies Day at Cheltenham as Defi Du Seuil failed to take advantage of the absence of the great Altior, handing Paul Nicholls his sixth Queen Mother Champion Chase winner.
The JP McManus-owned Defi Du Seuil set off at an overwhelming 2/5 favourite to take the crown from Altior, who was ruled out on the eve of the race after falling lame at the weekend, and the task at hand looked even simpler when Chacun Pour Soi was also withdrawn on Wednesday morning.
The result was a stream of money coming in late for the John Hales-owned Politologue, who set off at 6/1 and immediately assumed the lead under Harry Skelton, competing in the Champion race for the first time.
Yet as Politologue pulled clear coming down the hill, Defi Du Seuil never managed to challenge as Barry Geraghty laboured him home, fully in the knowledge that all was not well with the heavy favourite, to allow Politologue to romp away to victory and end McManus’ grip on the Festival so far.
"That was brilliant,” an emotional Hales said afterwards. “We dictated it from start to finish. Tactically, Harry got it absolutely right.
"In his previous race we thought they'd gone too slow, so I said 'make your own pace'. If that means going on from the start, run the finish out of them - and that's what he did. I'm over the moon - my third Queen Mother."
Skelton was keen to pay tribute to trainer Nichollsas well as Hales, having cut his teeth on his yard alongside brother Dan who has made his name as a trainer in his own right.
"It's my first ride in the Champion Chase," said winning jockey Skelton. "I owe so much to the Hales family. They've known me since I was a little kid. Pat (Mrs Hales) used to take me round all the shows.
"What more can I say for Paul (Nicholls)? I grafted there for a long time, me and Dan. We will be forever grateful for what he has done for our careers. He told me at the start of the season to come back and ride a little bit. This is magic. He has trained him to perfection. This is what he can do. I can't believe it."
The surprise came just as much in the fact that Nicholls took the opening day off, with none of his horses in action until the Champions Chase, which made is all the more rewarding to see Politologue followed home by another one of his chargers in Dynamite Dollars.
"My plan when I rang John up at Christmas was I said I wasn't going to run him until the Champion Chase,” said Nicholls. "I wanted to do everything I could to have him fit and fresh all week and he's just been looking amazing. He had a great prep. He ran well last year and was entitled to go close on that run, and I thought he was in a better place.
"I just decided this year we'd bring him here really, really fresh. He's been doing all his work with Clan Des Obeaux, who is the same, and he's been in really good form. He looked outstanding in the parade ring beforehand and I have been getting more bullish about him.”
Defi Du Seuil failed to challenge at all and the well-beaten fourth-place finish was no surprise to Geraghty. "He was never really going. I was trying to nurse him into it, but I knew from the back of the third-last that the game was up.
“Full credit to the winner and he was the last horse that Defi passed here in November. He got his day and it was well justified.
"He (Defi Du Seuil) has (dominated the division all season), but he is fine and healthy and he is ok. For no obvious reason he didn't perform, but he will have other days. He is still a gorgeous horse and I'm sure there is plenty more fun to be had with him."
The disappointment stopped there for Geraghty and McManus though as the former steered Champ to one of the great finishes in Cheltenham history, upsetting Minella Indo and Allaho in the RSA Chase to fightback from 10 lengths down and split them to cross the line first.
Having taken two wins on the opening day - one of which came through Geraghty in the Champion Hurdle with Epatante - Nicky Henderson maintained his strong form after watching Champ defy his doubters - to snatch an unlikely victory.
"It didn't look very likely to happen, did it?” said Henderson. “It looked like he was going to be an honourable third - I was watching the front two and all of a sudden he appeared in the picture. I was thinking, 'how has he got here?'
"He was 100-1 at the second-last and what price was he at the last? We had the Might Bite thing in this race a few years ago, so you'd have to say it's been a strange race for me."
The triumph proved the second win of the day for Henderson and Geraghty, with Dame De Compagnie staying out of trouble to clinch a convincing win the the 26-horse strong Coral Cup, taking the trainer’s tally of wins to four for the week already.
But the real winner of the day was McManus, who took a fantastic four wins the day after he celebrated his 69th birthday with two more victories. After both Champ and Dame De Copagnie left the winner’s enclosure, McManus was able to celebrate a surprise winner in Easysland, who beat reigning Grand National champion and four-time Cheltenham winner Tiger Roll to take the Cross Country Steeple Chase, with Gordon Elliot’s ‘Little Legend’ showing enough on the soft ground to set him up nicely for his attempt at history in trying to emulate Red Rum next month with a third consecutive at Aintree.
Elliot did get the day off to a flier though to claim back-to-back wins following victory in Tuesday evening’s National Hunt Chase as Envoi Allen lived up to its favourite’s billing to take the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, while McManus picked up his fourth win of the day in the penultimate race as Aramax clinched the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
There was enough time left in the day for a beleaguered Willie Mullins to finally get off the mark by taking a one-two in the Champion Bumper, with Paul Townend riding Ferby Hollow to victory ahead of Appreciate It and Patrick Mullins, with Queens Brook leading Elliott’s five-strong challenge home in third.
1:30pm - The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Race: 1. Envoi Allen - 4/7 Fav 2. Easy Work - 12/1 3. The Big Getaway - 9/1
2:10pm - The RSA Insurance Novices’ Steeple Chase: 1 Champ - 4-1 2 Minella Indo 3-1 3 Allaho 5-2 Fav
2:50pm - The Coral Cup Hurdle: 1 Dame De Compagnie 5-1 Fav 2 Black Tears 12-1 3 Thosedaysaregone 10-1 4 Cracking Smart 33-1
3:30pm - The Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase: 1 Politologue 6-1 2 Dynamite Dollars 7-1 3 Bun Doran 33-1
4:10pm - The Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase: 1 Easysland 3-1 2 Tiger Roll 8-11 Fav 3 Out Sam 33-1
4:50pm - The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race: 1 Aramax 15-2 2 Night Edition 16-1 3 Saint D'Oroux 14-1 4 Recent Revelations 14-1
5:30pm - The Weatherbys Champion Bumper: 1 Ferny Hollow 11-1 2 Appreciate It 15-8 Fav 3 Queens Brook 6-1