For much of the Winter, Altior has led the ante-post market for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham despite lingering doubts about recovering from a wind operation in time for the race.
The Nicky Henderson horse answered those questions when beating Politologue in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury with some bookmakers sufficiently impressed by shortening his odds to 4/6 for becoming the champion two miles chaser.
In soft underfoot conditions, Sam Twiston-Davies set a decent gallop on Politologue at Newbury as he attempted to expose any lack of fitness associated with Altior, and for a brief few seconds in the home straight, Nico de Boinville appeared anxious aboard the favourite.
After jumping the final fence, Altior soon settled matters by producing the necessary acceleration to earn a fairly comfortable victory, and prove that he is fast approaching the winning form demonstrated at two previous visits to the Cheltenham festival. Henderson’s gelding remains unbeaten over hurdles and fences, and there are now suggestions that none his potential rivals in the Champion Chase can prevent him from claiming the two miles crown.
The Newbury contest probably exposed the limitations of Politologue who has never won in three previous visits to Cheltenham racecourse. However, the Paul Nicholls gelding showed no signs of stopping when beaten by Altior and could still be worth an each-way bet.
It is likely that the main opposition to Altior will be provided by Irish horse and second favourite Min. Since moving to the Willie Mullins stable from Ireland, Min has been beaten in just two races, one of which was the 2016 Supreme Novices Hurdle when finishing second and seven lengths behind Altior. Both horses have subsequently followed a chasing career with Min unbeaten in three starts until losing the race in the stewards when narrowly beating Northern England raider Simply Ned at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
At that time, several of the Mullins horse were running below-par and during early February, Min improved significantly from that performance by winning over the same course and distance with Simply Ned twelve lengths adrift in second position. Current champion Special Tiara was beaten into third position that day and faces a difficult task in retaining his crown.
As for Min, he travelled with the minimum of effort during that latest race and produced the necessary acceleration when required. Should he arrive at Cheltenham in the same form and condition, he could offer a decent challenge to Altior.
There is still the possibility of Mullins saddling Douvan for the Champion Chase, but the former stable star has yet to reappear on a racecourse since sustaining an injury in the 2017 race, and he is unlikely to feature until the April Punchestown meeting.