An early season disappointment when it was announced that Altior would be missing the Tingle Creek due to needing a wind operation, but all roads lead back to the Festival for him once more. He was a fluent winner of the Arkle last season, having to dig deep to get on top but ultimately a clear winner at the line. He has the potential to take higher rank than that, a perfect 11/11 when racing over obstacles so far. Very impressive when taking on more experienced rivals for the first time in the Celebration Chase at Sandown in April, comfortably beating the Champion Chase winner Special Tiara. That propelled him to the head of the market for this contest and rightfully so.
The meeting that all racing fans want to see is Altior V Douvan, a clash that we were denied in the Tingle Creek. Whether they will meet in the Champion Chase is open for debate with perhaps the Willie Mullins horse stepping up in trip this season rather than staying at this distance to meet Altior. He lost his unbeaten record for the yard when sustaining an injury in the 2017 Champion Chase which adds another question to the mix of whether he will come back in the same form as he was when getting hurt. He too missed the Tingle Creek so although he is a star, the current price of 3/1 is short enough without seeing him back in action.
Special Tiara took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him in March, continuing his excellent form he shows in the spring to land this contest. He was no match for Altior when they met at Sandown at the end of April, a race that he had won in 2015. He will be eleven by the time that March rolls round so it’s unfair to expect him to be a leading player as he bids to retain the crown that it took him four bites of the cherry to gain, but he is a better horse at that time of the year so he will run his usual honest race.
A step up in trip could be on the cards for Fox Norton who took forever to get rolling in the Tingle Creek. Once he got going he flew up the hill but was unable to reel in the winner. Seven of his best eleven runs in his career have all come at Cheltenham so the return to this track would be a positive but he couldn’t run down Special Tiara in the 2017 renewal of this race, so it would be no surprise if connections look to step up in trip for the Ryanair unless it were to come up soft at the Festival.
Politologue has announced himself as the new kid on the block in he two mile chase division this season. A smart return winning the Haldon Gold Cup was surpassed when he travelled like a proper Grade 1 horse when winning the Tingle Creek at Sandown. He is still relatively lightly raced and will only be a seven-year-old come March so there should be more to come from the flashy grey. Paul Nicholls has been responsible for four different winners of this contest since 1999 so he could not be in better hands for a tilt at the race. He needs plenty of consideration with very little to prove compared to those further up the betting.
Perhaps a slightly forgotten horse is Min, sent off favourite when turned over in the 2016 Supreme by Altior. A perfect 3/3 over fences, he was stepped up to two and a half miles on his return this season in a small field, tanking his way through the contest. That will open up opportunities over further, though the way this race will be run could be perfect for him over two miles. Connections have plenty of top horses who they will be looking to keep apart at the Festival so there are a few interesting months on the way.
A horse who did nothing but improve all last season was the JP McManus owned Great Field. He had a nasty habit of losing concentration late in the piece but he had done things so easily up to the point of those blunders that it can be forgiven of an unexposed horse. He absolutely dotted up in a Grade 1 novice at the Punchestown Festival to close out his campaign, laying down a marker for this season. He is a heart on the sleeve front runner so may only set things up for the other classy horses, but on that performance it will take a good one to get past him.
Charbel is another who does the best of his work on the front end. He was runner-up to Altior in the Henry VIII at Sandown and would have gone close to filing that same position in the Arkle but for coming down two out. He was still tanking at the time so can be considered unfortunate for connections that he didn’t get his just rewards. He is just a little shy of top class, but his run in the Tingle Creek when only missing out on third in a photo shows that he is capable of holding his own against the big boys.