//Festival banker Altior takes centre-stage

Festival banker Altior takes centre-stage

The imperious Altior will be long odds-on to extend his winning sequence to 18 races when he lines up on Wednesday to defend his crown in the Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30), the main highlight on the second day of the superb Cheltenham Festival.

The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding has never been beaten over either hurdles or fences, and will bid for a fourth successive Festival success having landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016, the Arkle Trophy in 2017, and last proved too strong for the gallant Min in the Queen Mother Champion Chase itself.

For many punters he is undoubtedly the best bet of the week and bookies are taking few chances at a top priced 4/9 to defeat his old rival Min (9/2) once again.

Henderson is set to saddle the exciting prospect Champ (7/2) in the opening Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (1.30).

The JP McManus-owned seven-year-old has got better and better as the season has progressed, winning his last four starts including the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in late-December.

In what looks sets to be a classic English-Irish battle, his biggest challenge may come from the undefeated Gordon Elliott-trained Battleoverdoyen (4/1), who looked to be improved for the step up to around this trip when comfortably winning in Grade 1 company at Naas in January.

Among a host of other fine races at Cheltenham on Wednesday, the concluding Grade 1 Weatherby’s Champion Bumper (5.30) can often prove to be one of the liveliest betting heats of the week and it’s always well worth looking for any market moves for horses who are so unexposed and could well be better than we’ve seen so far on the racecourse.

Gordon Elliott‘s Envoi Allen (7/2) has been talked up for this race for some time and was odds-on when maintaining his unbeaten record in Grade 2 company at Punchestown last time out, while Elliott’s old rival Willie Mullins, in great form on day one, relies solely on the four-year-old Blue Sari (10/3), a facile winner of his only outing so far. He is reportedly held in very high regard.