Altior poised to continue remarkable winning record at Cheltenham

Reigning two-mile champion odds-on to retain his Champion Chase crown

 

Cheltenham don’t do exhibitions but if they did they’d probably look like Altior in Wednesday’s Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The reigning two-mile champion is bidding for a fourth festival success in a row and if he does justify short odds-on it will be a world record 13th straight win over fences.

It will also see him equal Big Bucks’ longest winning sequence over any kind of obstacle of 18 races in a row.

It’s not like Nicky Henderson’s superstar has peaked either. If anything he has looked even more imperious in three starts this season. With his trainer’s pedigree for gearing whole campaigns around this single week the best really could be yet to come.

That’s the sort of temerity that the forecast 80kph winds threatening racing going ahead are almost designed to warn against. But given the go-ahead this Day Two feature is a prospect to warm purist hearts.

That it shapes as more of an aesthetic treat than one rooted in old-fashioned betting considerations probably won’t count to Altior’s legions of fans although straightforward coronations aren’t really supposed to be Cheltenham’s thing.

The only one of the favourite’s opponents in single figure odds is his old rival Min, who he beat in the race last year, and in a vintage renewal of the 2016 Supreme Novices Hurdle.

In between Altior also picked up the 2017 Arkle which, like last year’s Champion Chase, did indicate a habit of hitting a flat-spot in his races that briefly ignites hope in his opposition.

That such hope has invariably fizzled out testifies to Altior’s quality and on all known evidence a similar outcome is likely again. That is likely to provoke comparisons to his former stable companion Sprinter Sacre and other great two-mile champions of the past.

It’s an argument which can be made in terms of his unbeaten streak, although whether or not the prospect of beating up Min once again justifies such heady claims is debatable.

At his 2013 pomp, Sprinter Sacre put almost 20 lengths between himself and another former champion in Sizing Europe, and did so at his ease.

It’s the benchmark performance that earned him an exalted place among the great chasers in handicap terms.

Theoretical exercises

The reality with Altior is that he’s officially rated 3lbs inferior to the rising English star Cyrname whose preference for right-handed tracks sees him skip the festival entirely.

Quantifying quality in dry statistics is a dry exercise at the best of times, rarely gives full credit to those able to get the job done whatever the circumstances and often seems like a job of giving marks for artistic impression.

It’s also dangerous to indulge in theoretical exercises before the practical job of winning is done since short odds are hardly a guarantee of success.

Touches of 1-2 are floating around about Altior’s supposed lap of honour. Sprinter Sacre was 1-4 half a dozen years ago. But Douvan started even shorter at 2-9 in 2017 and picked up an injury which saw him not even make the frame.

Cheltenham’s ultimate lap of honour was Arkle in 1966 when the peerless chaser completed a Gold Cup hat-trick at 1-10.

Even ‘Himself’ though managed to give his legion of fans a scare by ploughing through a fence on what was supposed to be little more than a victory lap.

It’s a reminder perhaps that Cheltenham coronations cannot be presumed. Such presumptions can always founder on injury, an error, a rogue germ, a bad ride or even wind.

So Altior will be past the post when he’s actually past the post. The Willie Mullins team will no doubt have a plan in place to try and make it third time lucky for Min. But should Altior still win? Probably.

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