As things turned out, rumours of Altior’s demise proved to be unfounded. Nicky Henderson’s wonder horse, who set a world-record winning streak for a jumps horse (19 consecutive victories), finally tasted defeat last November for the first time in four years. As ever is the case in horse racing, pens were ready to write the sporting obituary. A lack of action during the busy UK Christmas racing schedule did nothing to quell those rumours.
But last weekend Altior did reappear in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. And while he didn’t look every bit his old self, he was still a class apart from the rest of the field. In a way, it was a bit like seeing a champion boxer coming back to contest a warm-up bout against a lesser opponent; we saw enough to give us hope that the champion still has it, but we know that the real proof must come in the title bout.
That “title bout”, of course, comes in the shape of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the top event for middle-distance chasers at the Cheltenham Festival (10th-13th March). Altior has won the race the last two years, and the hat-trick will firmly put him among the all-time greats. Although, many would argue that he deserves that status, whether he wins or loses.
Hints of old form at Newbury
The win at Newbury re-established Altior as the favourite for the Champion Chase with some bookmakers, but only by a fine margin and some betting companies have stuck with Defi Du Seuil as the market leader. At the moment, the best price on Altior is 9/4 with Betfair and 888sport, with William Hill and Sky Bet offering 9/4 on Defi Du Seuil. Chacun Pour Soi is breathing down their necks, coming in at a best price of 3/1 with Unibet.
That trio heads the market, but one shouldn’t rule out the likes of A Plus Tard (8/1), Cilaos Emery (10/1) or even the veteran Un De Sceaux (12/1, all odds from Bet365). If Altior is at his best, nobody in the field could touch him. But because there is that little bit of doubt around his form and preparedness, the Champion Chase feels open. If unsure you could always use a free bet to back your selection, so check the Bookies Offers site that tells you all you need to know about Cheltenham’s betting offers for the 2020 Festival.
Cheltenham needs stars like Altior
Of course, the Cheltenham Festival is not all about Altior. There are 28 races in the event, and that includes the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. Yet, great sports events need ‘stories’ behind them, stars to drive the narrative; think of Diego Maradona and the 1986 World Cup, or Usain Bolt at the Olympic Games. There will be other superb races at the festival and reputations will be forged and lost, but all eyes will be on Altior.
Photo credit Twitter.com/Oddsbibleracing
Only Badsworth Boy has won three Champion Chases in the festival’s long history. But perhaps even more telling is that only the great mare Quevega (six wins) will stand above Altior if he takes his fifth in 2020 (he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and the Arkle in 2017).
Can Arkle do it? On the evidence of the Game Spirit Chase – yes. His jumping was a little off at times. But the finish as if the jockey clicked a couple of gears and hit the accelerator was vintage Altior. One would argue that the former can be adjusted and fixed, whereas the latter is an innate quality of a superstar. Get both right and those odds (Altior’s highest price for any race in years) will look massive on race day.
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