Nicky Henderson’s superb two-miler Altior hacked up in the Grade 1 Matchbook Clarence House Chase against just two rivals on Saturday despite jumping left at a number of fences. Nico de Boinville’s mount was in a class of his own and took his unbeaten streak to a remarkable 17 races.
He is a best priced 1/2 shot to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham on March 13 and remains a banker for hordes of British jumps fans.
Willie Mullins’ Footpad, seemingly Ireland’s main Champion Chase hope, was an impressive winner of last year’s Arkle Trophy but has been beaten in both starts so far this term. He is expected to have his final run before Cheltenham in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on February 2 and reports suggest he’s been working well.
Also at Ascot on Saturday, Paul Nicholls’ Cyrname put up a stunning effort to run right away with the valuable bet365 Handicap Chase. In the immediate aftermath of his romp there was speculation about a Cheltenham Gold Cup bid, but connections all but ruled that out as he is a better horse going right-handed – so he may well return to Berkshire next month for the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase.
And what of the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself? We still haven’t seen the ante-post favourite this season!
Last term’s RSA Chase winner Presenting Percy could finally return to the fray at Gowran Park on Thursday afternoon – but over hurdles, in the Grade 2 John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle.
A general 4/1 ante-post favourite for the Gold Cup on March 15, it is an unconventional route for a top-class chaser but the dry weather has forced his handler to be very patient with a horse who is at his best with give underfoot.
At Haydock on Saturday, Charlie Longsdon’s progressive mare Castafiore sprang a 28/1 shock in the Grade 2 novice chase. She could run again quickly at Huntingdon this Friday in the listed Pertemps Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase and may prove a popular choice.
Saturday’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, and the key Cheltenham trials day card, including the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase and the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle, should provide more important clues ahead of jump racing’s showcase Festival.