Altior to seal place among pantheon of chase greats
Altior can earn himself favourable comparisons with some of the great Cheltenham horses of years gone by - and, indeed, former stable companion Sprinter Sacre, the benchmark for modern two-milers - by winning the Champion Chase today.
Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old, unbeaten over obstacles, looks like the meeting's class act and beat Politologue, who had been making hay in his absence, with such contemptuous ease on his belated reappearance after a wind operation at Newbury last month that not even the heavy ground should stop him today.
One should not be put off by his momentary lameness due to some pus in his 'frog', the fleshy V on the underside of his foot, on Monday.
If Altior gets beaten, a poisoned frog is unlikely to be top of Henderson's list of excuses - however exotic that sounds.
In years gone by, numerous big-race winners will have suffered similar hiccups this late on in training - it will just not have been reported.
But, in the day and age of mobile phones, the ability to lay a horse to lose at the press of a button, and the demand for transparency, Henderson fulfilled his duty to let the public know as soon as Patricia Pugh's gelding had taken a lame step.
Of course, one should not need any reminding of the salutary lessons handed out by Festival good things in the past; that certainties do not exist.
You have to go back only 12 months to Douvan, in this race last year, for evidence of that.
Those who had backed him at 2/9 knew their fate a long time before he trailed in seventh behind Special Tiara, lame with a fractured pelvis.
It will be a remarkable training performance by Willie Mullins if he can get Douvan back to win or, even, put it up to Altior without a run for a year and having virtually decided to draw stumps with him for the season before Christmas.
One suspects Mullins has been treading on eggshells with Douvan and a fortnight ago he was still sufficiently worried about "putting the gun to head" in his final gallops.
But Ruby Walsh has sided with him over stable companion Min who, in his absence, has risen to the No 1 spot in Ireland.
Min's form ties in closely with Simply Ned and, as much as one respects the Cumbrian chaser, he is not Champion Chase-winning material.
For a long shot to follow Altior home, it might pay to go with Ordinary World.
Henry de Bromhead knows a thing or two about winning this race and, though Ordinary World does not win often, he was a threat to Min last time when making a mistake at the last.
If Altior has already proved himself to a certain extent, winning twice at the meeting, this is the day of reckoning for Samcro, who has been described as the 'Second Coming'.
Gordon Elliott's six-year-old has looked imperious in three starts over hurdles. The jumping, the cruising, the turn of foot - it all looks so easy for him and he may yet be another Arkle in waiting.
Owned by pantomime villain Michael O'Leary, and trained by last year's Festival champion trainer Elliott, he can be regarded as the small man's horse no more than Faugheen, but he will nevertheless be Ireland's flag-bearer and expect a Danoli-like reception if he wins the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
He will be a short price, however, and it may pay to oppose him, or at least go each-way on Colin Tizzard's Vision Des Flos, an expensive disappointment to the Potts family until a wind operation seemingly turned him round and he romped home by 31 lengths at Exeter last time.
When asked by the trainer why he had won by so far, jockey Tom Scudamore replied that he had still been running away up the run-in.
Cheltenham labels Wednesday as Ladies Day and Bryony Frost can give that added resonance by winning the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase on Black Corton, with whom she has struck up a remarkable understanding.
The Irish will be keen on Presenting Percy and the lovely Monalee, but Black Corton appeared to add a turn of foot to his repertoire at Ascot and he is the one to beat.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)