John Doyle asks if Irish horse Altior can join the superstar chasers at Cheltenham
The Champion Chase is one of the greatest spectacles of Steeplechasing. To see these horses hurtling around Cheltenham at top speed leaves no room for error as jumping must be fast and accurate.
Over the last number of seasons we have seen some great champions come to the fore and this year looks set to be a cracker of a race.
The exciting Altior will try to join this pantheon of stars by turning away a seriously strong field. Something that can only add to the esteemed status winning would confer on him.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, Altior is unbeaten over fences and has looked like a superstar, as he went unbeaten as a Novice last season.
The only time he looked vulnerable was in last season’s Arkle, but he is inclined to hit a flat spot and then power home.
His start to this season was delayed by a wind operation, but returning in the Game Spirit at Newbury he jumped well and quickened past Politologue for a cosy success.
He will be extremely hard to beat in the 2018 Champion Chase. Politologue has been winning well in the top 2 mile races, while Altior recovered from his operation, earlier in the season winning the Tingle Creek & Wayward Lad.
He looked progressive and could be a big player at Cheltenham. Following the defeat in the Game Spirit, it is unlikely punters can back him with confidence to reverse the form with Altior without some kind of mishap. Willie Mullins has all the big contenders resident at his stable.
Douvan has been the big noise in this division until his shock defeat in last season’s Champion Chase, which was subsequently explained by a problem with his spine.
Nursed back to health over the summer, he met with a setback in December and was originally ruled out for the season.
However, he has responded to treatment and is now being trained to make his appearance in this year’s renewal of the Champion Chase.
While the Mullins team are well capable of bringing him well prepared, it is a tough ask for a horse to come back from injury without practice into this white-hot battle and be expected to perform to his best. Min is the next contender for the Mullins team.
Min was the red-hot favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle in 2016, but he was put firmly in his place by Altior that day.
Last season, following a couple of impressive runs over fences, he got injured and was put away. Returning this season, he has won all three starts, even if losing one in the steward’s room, jumping really well on each occasion.
He will come to Cheltenham with a good chance but will have to be at his absolute best to deal with the threat of Altior.
Yorkhill is the next contender for the Mullins team. Probably the most overhyped horse currently in training, Yorkhill is a prolific winner and has won at the last two Festivals.
However, Yorkhill is also hard to keep on the straight and narrow and more worryingly, showed little interest in getting involved in the race last time at Leopardstown.
With so many good horses at the stable, Yorkhill must be some horse with all the hype that is spoken about him and if he turns up here, it will be interesting to see if he can perform. Last year, Special Tiara made all to win the race.
This horse is a blisteringly fast front runner and will add to the spectacle of the race. He is key to the setup of the race and will do the hard work for the stars to then come through and battle out the finish.
The other likely leader is Great Field, another from the Willie Mullins stable. Great Field is a front runner too and just runs and jumps.
If he turns up here, the battle with Special Tiara could be exciting. In conclusion, this race has the hallmarks of an exciting contest.
The speedsters will go off in front and set the race up and it is likely that Altior will come powering through at the end to take his place amongst the superstar chasers of recent years.