FOR THOSE who remember the 2008 Cheltenham Festival, we are all hoping there isn’t going to be a sense of deja vu today.
The forecast suggests Cheltenham is going to be battered by high winds and if they are as strong as some are saying, we could be in for a repeat of 11 years’ ago when day two was cancelled.
Let’s hope that isn’t the case, as any opportunity to see ALTIOR on a racecourse is a real treat as he bids for back-to-back wins in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Nicky Henderson’s brilliant nine-year- old is unbeaten in 12 starts over fences and is 2/5 with Ladbrokes to make it 13.
That is obviously the most likely result, with the majority of punters having him down as the banker of the week.
However, we’ve seen plenty of funny results at Cheltenham over the years, not least when Douvan was defeated in this race in 2017 when 2/9.
Altior had quite a hard race on his reappearance in the Tingle Creek, but was then at his imperious best when winning an admittedly weak running of the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
The worry for his legion of fans was his tendency to jump out to the left in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.
It may be clutching at straws, and many will point to a return to a lefthanded track as the solution to the problem, but there is also a small argument that he hasn’t produced his very best at Cheltenham.
That is probably quite harsh considering he has won by a total of 20 lengths at the last three Festivals, yet he looked in trouble 12 months ago after three out.
In all likelihood, the normal Altior afterburners will come into force again up the home straight, but his chief market rival MIN is a very good horse and this could be the day he exacts his revenge.
Willie Mullins’ son of Walk In The Park has travelled over to Cheltenham twice in his career and both times have finished runner-up to Altior, beaten seven lengths.
If Altior hadn’t been around, we would have been referring to him as one of the greats.
He has been in top form so far this season, winning the John Durkan at Punchestown before taking Leopardstown’s Dublin Chase last month.
The soft ground will be no problem for him and another big positive factor is that Ruby Walsh will be on board.
He has ridden the eight-year-old seven times in his career, winning six and finishing second to Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Unable to ride him in last year’s Champion Chase after getting injured in a fall in the earlier RSA Chase, I’m sure Walsh is going to try something different to try to get Altior beaten.
The odds suggest he won’t be able to do so, but this is a horse race which could be run in wet and windy conditions and I don’t think the price gap between the two should be so big.
No-one is going to get rich backing Altior at 2/5, but Min looks a cracking each-way bet at 5/1.
You’ll get your money back if he’s placed and I genuinely think he has a much better chance of winning than his odds suggest.
It is very difficult to remain at the top table for so long. Horses can have off days and at some point Altior will have one.
The remaining seven runners are surely playing for third place and the most likely winner of that battle is Alan King’s SCEAU ROYAL at a general 16/1.
He would definitely have preferred the rain to stay away, but he landed the Shloer Chase impressively at Cheltenham in November and ran a respectable trial in Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle last month.
Although I can’t see him coping with the big two, he should have enough to see off the likes of Politologue, God’s Own and Castlegrace Paddy.
BILL ESDAILE’S BETWAY QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE 1-2-3
3 SCEAU ROYAL