For this two-miles chasing championship at Cheltenham, Altior will attempt to win the race for the third successive year. No horse has achieved a similar feat since Badsworth Boy during the mid-1980’s and the reigning champion has not enjoyed the best of preparations ahead of this ultimate target.
Altior began the season by tackling the 2m5f distance at Ascot where he faced Cyrname. The latter horse was seeking a three-timer as a course and distance winner and led all of the way amid suggestions that stamina issues prevented the Nicky Henderson trained runner-up from extending his unbeaten sequence over fences.
The only other race for Altior this season was the Exchange Chase at Newbury last month where he won by over three lengths over the two miles distance. Some pundits argued that is was a laboured performance from the champion, but he extended his lead at the finish and may be more suited by the undulations at Cheltenham. He is generally priced at 15/8.
However, Altior will face strong opposition in this race with Defi Du Seuil well-fancied at 2/1 to claim the two miles prize. Trained by Philip Hobbs, the 7-year-old gelding is unbeaten in three races this season after a decent novice campaign last term. Yet he won the 2m4f JLT Novices’ Chase at last year’s festival and could only finish second behind Chacun Pour Soi at the Punchestown Festival over the two miles distance.
His winning performance in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown suggests that ‘Defi’ will be a leading contender in this contest while his conqueror at Punchestown last term must also be a serious challenger.
The Willie Mullins trained horse was a winner of the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase back in February where he beat several leading two-milers.
That victory was a much-improved effort from his second place behind A Plus Tard on his seasonal debut at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival where his trainer claimed he needed the race. Chacun Pour Soi will have also benefited from his February event with Mullins set to saddle him in the ‘Champion’ and Min rerouted to the Ryanair Chase.
Another horse worth considering as each-way value at 25/1 is Sceau Royal who was second behind Altior last time and finished a close third in this race last season. Trained by Alan King, he has not won a race since November 2018, but is a course and distance winner and has been consistent for most of his career while finishing less than four lengths behind Altior on three occasions.