Altior coasts home to show Festival class
Nicky Henderson may have poured cold water on the idea of Altior taking on Douvan in next month's Queen Mother Champion Chase, but his prospects of tasting success in the C moved a step nearer following his victory in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury.
Long seen as the natural heir to the throne vacated by Sprinter Sacre, the seven-year-old stepped out of novice company to win the same Grade Two contest his former stablemate landed back in 2012 en route to claiming the Arkle at Cheltenham.
Faced with just three rivals, including 2015 Champion Chase hero Dodging Bullets, Altior was reunited with Nico de Boinville for the first time since last year's Supreme win.
The 30-100 favourite raced prominently from the outset, jumping boldly throughout before giving those in the stands something to savour when clearing the fourth last with plenty of air.
He readily quickened away from his rivals over the remaining three fences to score by 13 lengths from Fox Norton.
Following the race, Altior was shortened even further for the Arkle with Paddy Power and Boylesports making him a 1-3 chance.
Henderson said: "It's a pity he has had to go round again on his own. He is starting to show off a bit too now.
"The nice thing is he found that easy and handled the ground. I remember him getting beaten in a bumper one day behind Barters Hill and Buveur D'Air.
"He was third and I was disappointed. I thought he was very special then. Now he looks like what I thought he was. This year he has not put a foot wrong.
"He is a genuine two-miler and he doesn't need to go any further. If it comes up soft now, we don't have to panic. We are going to stay in the Arkle for sure.
"Buveur D'Air is going to win the Champion Hurdle and I will get in a muddle if I change them all around.
"I had moments last night where he was not going to run. He has always looked very special and everything has gone right now. The thing we all miss this year is Sprinter not being able to have a game with Douvan.
"If everything goes right and we're all here in a year's time, maybe Altior and Douvan can meet then. It would be great."
Colin Tizzard, trainer of the runner-up, left the door open for a possible step up in trip at the Festival. He said: "He sat in his box for a month and he looked a bit ring rusty today. I think he is more of a stayer.
"I watched last year's Arkle with Joe (Tizzard) on Christmas Day and he only just got into third. He will come out of this race and hopefully be fine.
"He is in both races (Champion Chase and Ryanair) and we will decide which he goes for nearer the time." Slowmotion fought back from seemingly likely defeat to land the Listed BBA Ireland Ltd Opera Hat (Mares) Chase at Naas.
The five-year-old was completing a double for trainer Joseph O'Brien and jockey Mark Walsh, but she looked as though she would be well beaten as she was detached from her four rivals with five fences to jump.
Meanwhile, Slowmotion, who was sent off a 9-4 chance, was still adrift of the field turning for home but she gradually picked off her rivals before improving to lead past Solita on the run-in.
O'Brien's charge came home four lengths clear, with 4-7 favourite Listen Dear fading dramatically in the closing stages. O'Brien said of the JP McManus-owned winner: "Mark gave her a peach and let her find her feet early. She's tough and she stays and even though the trip was on the short side, she stuck at it well."
Willie Mullins said of Listen Dear: "She was disappointing. She is possibly not a winter mare, possibly not a heavy ground mare."
Outspoken (8-15 favourite) had initiated the double for O'Brien, Walsh and McManus as he made it third-time lucky over jumps in the opening Credo Pizza Supporting Kill GAA Maiden Hurdle.
While Outspoken blundered at the third last flight, he stayed on strongly in the home straight to comfortably beat Icario.
Sunday Indo Sport