Cheltenham Festival Watch – Altior, Native River & Shiskin!

Native River winning the Denman Chase at Newbury 2020

There’s now just a month to go until the 2020 Cheltenham Festival! Most of the main contenders have had their last prep runs before the greatest show on turf, with stars of the game Altior and Native River scoring on Saturday.

Here’s the lowdown on their chances at the Cheltenham Festival, as well as four other contenders who should be competitive at Prestbury Park next month. Be sure to check out our tips and analysis and Free Bets over the coming days, as well as a look at Benie Des Dieux’s chances in the Champion Hurdle.

Shiskin

Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old further enhanced his claims for the Supreme with a taking success at Huntingdon on Thursday. Already prominently placed in the Antepost market, he became the outright favourite after an eleven-length success over two-miles-three.

He travelled smoothly and put the race to bed quickly. He has all the attributes to make a mark at Cheltenham and he’s obviously in the right hands. What has to be of concern is the different quality of opposition that he’ll be facing in the Supreme though. He’s won both starts since falling on his hurdling debut, and done it nicely.

Having said that, he’ll be up against proven high class performers, including Abacadabras and owner’s mate Asterion Forlonge. Both have landed Grade One races already, whereas Shiskin will pitch up at Cheltenham with his quality at the top level to prove. A possible winner he may be, but 3/1 looks on the short side for me.

On The Slopes

Chris Gordon’s novice chaser finally got off the mark at the sixth attempt over fences. He had performed with credit in five previous starts, including when third to Simply The Betts and Imperial Aura at Cheltenham in January.

Sent off favourite at Kempton on Friday, he made all with an impressive round of jumping to record a decisive success. Scoring easily from a mark of 129, the assessor is likely to reassess him with a seven/eight pound rise. He’s likely to get into the Grand Annual off a light weight and the drop back to two-miles will hold no fears for the strong travelling gelding.

Chantry House

Nicky Henderson has an embarrassment of riches in the novice hurdling division, emphasised by Chantry House’s impressive win at Newbury on Saturday. He’s long had a big reputation, enhanced by the recent exploits of Edwardstone whom he beat in a bumper in March.

The form of his novice win at Cheltenham in December has similarly worked out well, with the second landing a Grade Two last month, the fourth now rated 138 and the fifth 135. He was certainly entitled to win this weekend, but he did it nicely, overcoming a bad mistake three out.

His trainer believes he’ll want another half-mile, but Barry Gerahgty was of the opinion that two-miles suits him ideally. Whatever happens at Cheltenham, he’ll definitely be a novice chaser to follow next term. Current prices of 11/1 for the Supreme and 14/1 for the Ballymore seem more than fair.

Altior

The Champion is back! His crown had wobbled at Ascot in November, but a return to two-miles worked wonders, with the ten-year-old landing the Game Spirit for a third time. It was far from his best performance, but he did it as he so often does, hitting a flat spot before powering home to score.

Regaining his Champion Chase crown will require more from the ten-year-old. Even so, it was a step back in the right direction and both trainer and jockey said there’ll be further improvement from him to come.

Many bookmakers now have him as favourite for a race he won in both 2018 and 2019. That seems a shade premature given that he was entitled to win at Newbury and made more hard work of his assignment than he should have done. The new challengers he faces in Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi will provide a far sterner challenge to his dominance, with the most likely winner of the 2020 renewal one of those two for my money.

Native River

Another legend of the game landed his third Grade Two at Newbury on Saturday, with Native River gaining a third Denman Chase under Jonjo O’Neill Jr. He had looked as good as ever when dominating a small field at Aintree in December and proved impossible to peg back from the front once more on his prep run for the Gold Cup.

A three-length victory over Secret Investor is far from the strongest piece of form on offer. Nevertheless, he gave weight to the field and was without regular rider Richard Johnson. Furthermore, three-miles-two on soft ground at Cheltenham suits far better than three-miles on a sound surface at Newbury.

Bookies are slowly warming to Colin Tizzard’s stable star’s chances. He’s now as short as 10/1 for the event he won in 2018, a price that still has some juice in it. With many of his main market rivals having some convincing to do, he is a strong contender for the 2020 Gold Cup.

Rouge Vif

It remains to be seen whether the Kingmaker will live up to its name this year. Having said that, Rouge Vif landed the Grade Two in good style and continued the Brooks’ fantastic run of form, who’ve had winners with five of their last twelve runners.

Prices of 33/1 for both the Arkle and Marsh suggest the odds’ compilers don’t fear him for the Cheltenham Festival. His underwhelming effort at Prestbury Park in November goes some way to explaining the pessimism. However, he benefited from a subsequent wind op and the application of a tongue tie eked out further improvement. A strike rate of 6/12 and his upwardly mobile profile suggest he could be dangerous to dismiss outright.

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