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Tuesday 18th December 2018
Can Anyone Stop Altior Retaining Queen Mother Champion Chase Crown?

"Altior" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Carine06

After an impressive return to action in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, Nicky Henderson's stable star Altior is now unbeaten in 15 starts over hurdles and fences.

Conditions were horrendous for that valuable two-mile Grade 1 event, but he shrugged veteran rival Un De Sceaux off up the run-in to score by four lengths with real authority. The runner-up is no mug either having landed nine races at the highest level.

As the Tingle Creek front two pulled a further 15 lengths clear of the third horse home Saint Calvados, who in turn beat fellow up-and-coming chaser Sceau Royal by five lengths, the form has a rock-solid look to it. On that evidence Altior is going to take all the beating if defending his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

While you could get your bet on Cheltenham now at a best-price 8/11 with William Hill, there have actually been times when Henderson’s impressive eight-year-old has not been the most straightforward. Little went to plan with Altior last season as he missed his first intended target, the Tingle Creek, and made a belated return to action in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

As he then cast Politologue easily aside, he was naturally odds-on for the Champion Chase having previously won the Arkle and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2017 and 2016 Cheltenham Festivals. Altior almost didn’t line-up in the big race, however, after being found lame in his stable just 48 hours beforehand.

"Nicky Henderson" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by danheap77

Immediate treatment allowed him to take his chance, but punters who waited actually got odds against for Altior in the Champion Chase. He then silenced all critics and doubters when forging seven lengths clear of Min from the last for the most remarkable of victories.

Strength and depth of Irish challenge not clear

Given his superiority over that Irish raider, trainer Willie Mullins and owners Rich and Susannah Ricci may look to avoid Altior at Cheltenham in 2019. This is reflected in Min’s ante post prices for the Champion Chase – a best quote of 12/1 with 888Sport – compared to the 2m 5f Ryanair Chase.

Min is 7/1 to win the latter Festival race with Betway, having landed the Grade 1 John Durkan at Punchestown on reappearance. Mullins has other two-milers he can aim at Altior, representing powerful connections in Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and legendary Irish gambler JP McManus.

Footpad remains a top prospect in the division despite coming to grief at the last on his reappearance at Navan. One fall doesn’t make the six-year-old – previously unbeaten over fences – a bad horse and that is reflected in Champion Chase odds of a general 5/1 with bookmakers.

Great Field, meanwhile, is a lightly-raced Mullins inmate who clearly hasn’t been the most straightforward to train. He too was unbeaten before taking a tumble at Cork on reappearance and has an exuberant style that could on its day give Altior something to think about.

The only issue is Great Field hasn’t been the easiest to train and is a top-price 20/1 for the Champion Chase with Paddy Power. Mullins could also give Un De Sceaux another crack at Altior in what might be his last hurrah, but he’s now 20/1 with Coral and well held on Tingle Creek form.

With no British runner shorter than 20/1 in the Champion Chase betting either, Henderson has the one to beat – in both two-mile disciplines after Buveur D’Air outclassed Samcro in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. Your best bet might be doubling that one up with Altior!

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