Short-priced Altior can live up to the hype
Some older readers will remember the horse Tingle Creek, which died aged 30 in the mid 1990s. I was reading through some old newspaper reports and watching a few videos of the chaser from the 1970s and he was a determined front-runner, known for his bold jumping displays.
Indeed, one report from this paper in 1974 described him as 'Tearaway Tingle Creek'. The chestnut, which won 23 races in Britain, particularly liked Sandown where he set a number of course records - although he never went well at Cheltenham, losing all six races there.
A lover of fast ground, he never fell in any of his chase races and one of his jockeys, Steve Smith Eccles, said all you had to do was point him in the right direction.
The race named after him (3.0 Sandown) is quite different from the races he actually won here, although if the betting is anything to go by, jockey Nico de Boinville may just have to point Altior in the right direction, with the eight-year-old trading around 4/6 in the early markets yesterday.
Just three others go to post, namely Un De Sceaux, Sceau Royal and Saint Calvados but it's definitely a case of quality rather than quantity and this should be a cracking contest to watch, with or without a bet. Unbeaten in nine starts over fences, Altior is the best two-mile chaser in the business at the moment, although he has an early entry in the three-mile King George which would be quite interesting.
Last seen when winning the Celebration Chase here in April, we didn't learn a lot from his latest success at a price of 2/11 but he was outstanding in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, and Nicky Henderson described him as being in "frighteningly good" form at home.
The ground looks like it will be soft which won't be a problem, and I can't find any reasons to oppose the favourite today.
Willie Mullins' Un De Sceaux won this in 2016 and presents the biggest challenge to the bet at around 4/1 although on official ratings, he's got half a stone to make up with Altior. The more rain comes, the better for the ten-year-old who proved he's still on top of his game by beating odds-on favourite and stablemate Douvan when last seen in the Punchestown Champion Chase in April. As talented as he is, it's unlikely that he's got more improvement to come at his age, unlike the favourite.
But the remaining two are not just here to make up the numbers and Alan King's six-year-old Sceau Royal is also open to improvement having shown some great form as a novice last season, and the Champion Chase in March is the likely target. While his trainer concedes he's got a huge task ahead if he's to win today, he does have the benefit of a recent run having won the Grade Two Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November.
Harry Whittington's Saint Calvados is a smart five-year-old which had Footpad's measure before that horse fell in a Grade Three at Naas last month, and is capable of better still. It should be a great race but it looks a straightforward penalty kick for Altior and his short price is justified.
For something at bigger odds, consider an each-way bet on Man Of Plenty in the Listed Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle (2.25), priced around 14/1. He's raced off today's rating of 123 in his latest three starts, and went particularly well last time finishing fourth of 15 in a decent enough handicap at Newbury last week.
It's been a long time since he actually won a race, but he acts on softer ground and talented jockey and regular partner Sean Houlihan once again claims 5lbs, which should prove useful.
At Aintree, Definitly Red looks set to go off around 8/11 as he attempts to win the Grade Two Betway Many Clouds Chase (2.05) for the second year running, having recently won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. He's got talent, but that price seems a little on the short side, and preference is for Double Shuffle, which has been chalked up at 5/2 in early markets.
I've backed Double Shuffle a number of times now including his latest race where he fell in the aforementioned Charlie Hall, and I must admit he's become somewhat frustrating to follow. My patience is wearing thin, but he was second in the King George in 2017 so on that basis, I'm going to give him another chance at this level.