Altior has the opposition running scared as he’s unbeaten in 16 starts over obstacles and all the rage for the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday (15:35).
Now aged nine, the Nicky Henderson trained star is already odds-on to retain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown and faces just three rivals on what could be his final outing before the Cheltenham Festival.
In the smallest Clarence House field in recent memory, it’s no surprise to find the 2m division kingpin a best-price 2/7 with Betfair for yet another victory. Altior has never run in a chase at Ascot, but is a hurdles course and distance winner who has race hat-trick hero Un De Sceaux well held on their meeting in the Tingle Creek last month.
Willie Mullins’ popular veteran was not among final declarations despite his superb record in the race. This may be because only one 11-year-old has won the race and Un De Sceaux lacked the foot to maintain his challenge up the Sandown hill last time out.
Without him, just two face Altior with plenty to prove. One rival must overcome a lengthy layoff, while the other has 19lb to find on the red-hot jolly – according to official figures.
Diego Du Charmil and Fox Norton fighting for forecast spot
Paul Nicholls’ young improver Diego Du Charmil is still only seven, but got 3lb from Altior over Christmas and still received a 19-length thrashing in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase. They now meet off level weights.
With only three going to post, there isn’t any each-way betting on the horses here. The general 25/1 about Diego Du Charmil is readily dismissed, leaving Fox Norton, who drops back in trip, the obvious forecast flutter.
Trained by Colin Tizzard, the nine-year-old hasn’t been seen since pulling up in the 2017 King George VI Chase on his first try at 3m. Fox Norton, also now a nine-year-old, simply didn’t get the trip, but is capable of pulling off shocks on his day – notably when denying Un De Sceaux in the 2017 Punchestown Champion Chase.
That was when he was race fit, however, and he now tries Grade 1 company straight after almost 400 days off. Fox Norton, a standout 12/1 with bet365, may well come on for this return to action, but is still held on back form with Altior who would’ve beaten him anyway in the 2017 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury even if he wasn’t getting 5lb then.
Altior just might be every bit as good as Henderson’s previous top 2m chaser Sprinter Sacre, if not better. He can once again stake his claim to that crown in what looks on paper to be little more than a procession.