IN THE past five years there have been four odds-on favourites for the Racing Post Arkle – two trained by Willie Mullins and two by Nicky Henderson. All four have won.
Altior looks set to go off almost as short as 1/4 shot Douvan did 12 months ago and his credentials are equally strong.
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ winner has been practically flawless in four chase starts, not least when pulverising Fox Norton in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month.
Henderson knows a thing or two about top two mile chasers. It’s been impossible to avoid the comparisons with recently-retired superstar Sprinter Sacre.
Altior v Douvan in 12 months’ time is already getting racing fans drooling and I thoroughly expect the seven-year-old son of High Chaparral to win this comfortably.
He is unbackable at 1/4, though, so the best option is to look at the without Altior market.
Although favourite in this market, I cannot see past CHARBEL at 11/4 with Paddy Power.
Kim Bailey’s charge was fifth in last year’s Supreme Novices’ and has looked very good over fences this term, beating Le Prezien and Top Notch at Uttoxeter in October, before finishing second to Altior at Sandown in December.
He has been kept fresh for this ever since, while Bailey’s horses have been in flying form over the past few weeks.
There is always a concern in this type of race that horses can pay the price for taking on such a hot favourite. But there looks to be plenty of pace in the race and I can see Charbel pulling away from all bar Altior.
Another horse I expect to run well is Brian Ellison’s FOREST BIHAN. He won the Grade Two Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster in January, giving him a third win in four chase starts.
He could be one to buy on Sporting Index’s win index, but a better bet is to get with him against Royal Caviar in a match bet.
Mullins’ horse is likely to try to burn them off from the front. Those tactics could work against him, however, and Forest Bihan can hopefully pick up the pieces.
The National Hunt Chase (4.50pm) is being run in honour of JT McNamara this year, which adds even more significance for the amateur riders taking part.
Edwulf looks to have a big chance of giving owner JP McManus his third straight win in the race, although he has fallen a few times in his career and that is always an issue at Cheltenham.
I like the look of CHAMPERS ON ICE for the David Pipe team. Many were expecting him to take his place in the Ultima Handicap, but he wants four miles and stormed up the hill here last time over too short a trip.
The best of his form has come with plenty of cut in the ground so the drying conditions are a little concerning.
Therefore, at a much bigger price, I’m also prepared to chance my arm each-way with TIGER ROLL at a massive looking 20/1.
He has unquestionable ability as he showed when winning the Munster National earlier in the season and don’t forget he won the Triumph Hurdle here a few year ago.
Admittedly, he is not a guaranteed stayer, but is just the type to go well in a race of this nature and goes on any ground.
You need to stay every yard to win this race and he looks a fair price at 8/1 with Star Sports.
Venetia Williams has her team in great form and I fancy her BURTONS WELL to run well at 20/1 with Sky Bet in the finale (5.30pm).
It’s hard to be confident in a wide-open novice handicap, but the eight-year-old ran well here last time and as long as the ground doesn’t dry out too fast, he should outrun those odds.
It may also be worth backing Irish raider TULLY EAST who looks overpriced at 16/1.
He was an impressive winner on his chasing debut last December and finished a good fourth in the Martin Pipe Hurdle here last year.
Charbel (without Altior) 2.10pm Cheltenham
Buy Forest Bihan against Royal Caviar in match bet 2.10pm Cheltenham
Champers On Ice e/w 4.50pm Cheltenham
Tiger Roll ew 4.50pm Cheltenham
Burtons Well e/w 5.30pm Cheltenham
Tully East e/w 5.30pm Cheltenham