Nicky Henderson is taking Cheltenham Festival 2018 by the scruff of the neck. It’s a considerable achievement to get any horse to The Festival fit and ready, however, to lead the market in all three of the major Grade One Championship races of the meeting is unprecedented. Out of Might Bite, Buveur D’Air and Altior, it is the latter aimed for The Champion Chase who is possibly the most awe-inspiring horse in training at the moment. He is the justifiably hot favourite in a fascinating renewal that involves also two of Willie Mullins’ star names from his County Carlow set-up, Douvan and Min.
Since his slice up of the Supreme Novices Hurdle at The Festival in 2016, Altior has gone from strength to strength. Last year at The Festival he more than convincingly added The Arkle to his scalp, sending him to the top of the ante post lists for winning The Champion Chase this year. However, a wind operation seriously delayed his reappearance until last month where he made easy work of the Tingle Creek winner Politologue in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury, winning by 3 lengths.
Altior is pure class, pure steeplechaser and on the threshold of eclipsing Nicky Henderson’s previous jumping deity, Sprinter Sacre. Two Champion Chase wins will etch his name into folklore but he could accomplish that earlier if he was to absolutely clobber Douvan and Min next Wednesday, and this is not entirely inconceivable. 8/11 best with William Hill and Betfair.
Followers of the Willie Mullins’ 2016 Arkle winner must be scratching their heads, wondering which Douvan will turn up next Wednesday. After sustaining a pelvic injury in his shock defeat in this race last year, the 8 year old has yet to make a reappearance this season. Soap opera would not do the story any justice whatsoever. Detective series might be more apt. He was scheduled at one point to turn up at Sandown for the Tingle Creek. This was then quashed with the announcement that the horse had still not recovered and was out for the season. Yet just a few weeks later, ante post backers were delving through the contents of their rubbish bins to seek out their torn up Douvan betting slips upon the news that the horse was working better than expected and all systems were go for another crack at The Champion Chase in March.
Another reappearance was planned for the Gowran Park meet a few weeks back which again was vetoed. However, Mullins has reported his star to be working well and in fine fettle. The clash with Altior is on. Safe heads would probably prefer to watch but if your heart and wallet can meet in the middle, then you’d best head to William Hill for a nerve-wracking 9/2 best. It could even be the SP value of the Festival. Remember Sprinter Sacre..
This supposedly second string attack from the Mullins yard has been the subject of some recent serious ante post opposition to Altior. This is almost certainly down to his absolute demolition of some half decent rivals, including the under achieving Yorkhill, in the Coral Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last month. It was also ironic retribution over Simply Ned, who defeated Min via a steward’s enquiry in December. Whether he is good enough to go with Altior up the hill is doubtful. Min will have to improve a little more to get competitive and he has already suffered at the hands of Altior in the Supreme Novices in 2016 and Altior has gone on leaps and bounds since that. The value has clearly been nailed on Min (now 11/4 best with William Hill and Paddy Power) and makes forecast appeal only.
Not much of a case to be made for the rest. Special Tiara is of course the current champion and clearly loves the track so 16/1 with William Hill and Betfred is clearly the outstanding each way value but he’s up against it with the likes of the Henderson and Mullins’ juggernauts. Politologue has done absolutely nothing wrong all season but was totally exposed by a green, returning to action Altior so he makes similar appeal to Special Tiara. Both of these charges need a mishap from the front three in the market to have any say in this race realistically.
The question marks over Douvan are numerous to say the least and this is as blind a punt as it can get. If he is back to his best then we have a race on our hands as a fit, firing Douvan will test Altior all the way to the line. Min should also not be ruled out. However, the safe option is with Altior who comes to The Festival with a confirmed decent run under his belt and plenty of positive sound bites coming from Seven Barrows. Quite easily the most fascinating clash of the four day bonanza and every second of this race should be relished. It’s going to be a cracker.
Good luck with all bets for The Cheltenham Festival!
Please note all odds are correct at the time of publishing (12:00 9th March 2018) and are subject to change.