The Cheltenham Festival begins four weeks on Tuesday so this weekend is the last opportunity for potential runners to race and then have enough time to recover. The best horse in action at Newbury on Saturday is Altior but his trainer believes the horse is more vulnerable than at any other time in his career. Altior must win the Exchange Chase to justify favouritism for the Queen Mother Chase. Native River is auditioning for another crack at the Gold Cup on the same card.
The Betfair Hurdle is one of the most competitive handicaps over the smaller obstacles and often attracts a big field. There should be at least 16 runners this year which means bookmakers will settle each way bets at one quarter the odds for the first four places. The other races previewed won’t have the required eight runners for three payout places and they are more about quality than quantity.
Altior is trained by Nicky Henderson who had the brilliant Sprinter Sacre winning races at the highest level for five years. The trainer believes Altior could be as good and is potentially his stable star and that’s saying something when it houses the current favourite for the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. Altior has won different races at the last two Cheltenham Festivals so is looking for a rare treble in March.
Politologue has the best chase form over two miles in Britain this season. The horse won the Tingle Creek Chase in impressive style and that is a recognised trial for the two mile championship. Altior can put down a marker for that race by beating Politologue but that will be a tough ask after a ten month absence from the track. On past form and ratings Altior is the horse to beat in the Exchange Chase and then the big one at Cheltenham next month.
Native River won two major handicaps last season with something in hand and that made the horse a Gold Cup contender. Native River ran a fine race to be third to Sizing John but that horse has underperformed this season. The Gold Cup is a demanding race that takes a great deal out of runners and back-to-back wins are rare. Best Mate won the race three times in a row at the start of the century but was an exceptional animal and Sizing John is not in that class.
The Denman Chase is Native River’s prep for the Gold Cup and he must win comfortably in an average race to have any chance at Cheltenham. Newbury is a flat track and the race is over less than three miles. Native River won the old Hennessy Gold Cup on the course last season so relishes the conditions and can jump the fences. A clear cut win is required and anything less will take Native River out of the Gold Cup equation and the other four runners are not proven at the highest level.
Lalor was one of the best bumper horses last season and is a novice running in a big field handicap. The Betfair Hurdle could be too much for the horse and Jenkins has better credentials. Jenkins is trained by Henderson and he has won five Betfair Hurdles in its different guises. If he wins another and Altior prevails it will have been a good day at the office.