Trainer Nicky Henderson has reported Altior to be in spectacular form ahead of Saturday's Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, but are last year's novices good enough to beat the perennial champion?
The eight-year-old is unbeaten in 14 starts over jumps - a run that features three successive wins at the Cheltenham Festival, including last season's Champion Chase.
Having sidestepped an entry in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, he instead made an appearance at Newbury's Winter Carnival, having a morning gallop in the hands of conditional jockey Ned Curtis.
That's what has made him so short in the Tingle Creek betting, however, the latest entries contain three of last season's top novice chasers, who dominate the betting without the favourite.
A horse that has won its last 14 starts is obviously going to be hard to beat, but Altior is likely to face a stern challenge should most of the original entries make their way to Sandown on Saturday.
One of the main dangers appears to be second-season chaser Sceau Royal (nap), owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who was last seen winning the Shloer Chase in comprehensive style.
He was superb at his fences and has proven his ability at Sandown by taking the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase last season. He could prove a worthy adversary to Altior, whose tendency to hit a flat spot could be exploited by the very athletic and nimble Sceau Royal. The 5/1 odds on offer with BetVictor could look really big come Saturday afternoon.
Trainer Harry Whittington is taking on Altior with Saint Calvados (11/2 Betfair), following his victory in Ireland. The five-year-old made all the running in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas, beating the hot favourite Footpad, who came down at the final fence, when under pressure.
Whittington's decision to take on the Arkle Chase winner on his home territory was brave, given Saint Calvados was soundly beaten by Footpad at Cheltenham in March. The Kate and Andrew Brooks-owned gelding is a best-priced 11/2 with Betfair to lower the colours of Altior this time.
If you're looking for a Tingle Creek trends winner, Sceau Royal ticks almost all the boxes - he's won at Sandown, won this season and is six years old - falling down on ratings at 159, which makes him officially 16lbs inferior to Altior.
Looking for a rival to fit that ratings trend, Un De Sceaux (7/1 Black Type) springs to mind, the 10-year-old having won the 2016 Tingle Creek and 2015 Arkle Chase. The catch is that he's also entered in Sunday's Hilly Way Chase at Cork and the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.
Nine horses have won the Tingle Creek than once: Sire De Grugy is the last multiple winner, with his two victories coming in 2013 and 2015, victory for Un De Sceaux this Saturday would mirror that achievement.
The bookmaker is presently offering to pay 1/5 across three places in the race - so you will get paid out on your place bet if Special Tiara finished third. He's run five times at Sandown and finished worse than third once.
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