Henry de Bromhead’s Identity Thief made a faultless winning debut over fences at Punchestown last month and is already a single figure price for the Arkle itself in March.
However, despite having not yet jumped a fence in public, it is Altior who heads ante-post lists for the two-mile novice chasing championship on the back of his hugely impressive display in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season.
His trainer Nicky Henderson said: “After the November Novices’ Chase was reopened at Cheltenham on Sunday I have decided to enter Altior and if the forecast is correct it is a possibility that he may take his chance, but it must be emphasised that he will not run unless the predicted rain materialises.
“He is in great form and worked particularly well this morning. I am extremely happy with him. We will give him a schooling session in the morning after which a more definitive decision with regards to his participation at Cheltenham will be made.”
The Grade Two contest has attracted 13 entries in all.
Others engaged are Paul Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux and Le Prezien, Malcolm Jefferson’s Cloudy Dream and three others from De Bromhead’s yard, Three Stars, Some Plan and Ordinary World.
Henderson could send Thomas Campbell and Khezerabad into battle when he bids for a third successive victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday.
The master of Seven Barrows landed the Grade Two prize with Vyta Du Roc in 2014 and last year struck gold with the brilliant Altior.
Thomas Campbell beat Khezerabad over the course and distance last month, but the latter went one better at Sandown on Sunday and could make a swift return to action.
Henderson said: “Thomas Campbell and Khezerabad are two nice horses but I’m pretty sure they are not the next Altior. Obviously, they were first and second at Cheltenham’s October meeting and then Khezerabad won nicely enough at Sandown on Sunday.
“They were only small races and this is a step up.
“We will see how they are later in the week before making a decision.”
Other contenders for the two-mile contest include Moon Racer and Ballyandy, the last two winners of the Champion Bumper at Prestbury Park and a respective first and second in a novice hurdle at Perth in September.
Eve Johnson-Houghton is ready to throw high-class Flat performer What About Carlo in at the deep end on his hurdling debut. The five-year-old was last seen claiming his sixth win on the level at Newbury last month.
“I have given What About Carlo an entry at Leicester (Sunday) but the ground is firm there and I don’t want to run him on that,” said Johnson-Houghton.
“The ground looks like it is going to be perfect at Cheltenham so the plan is probably to go for the Supreme Trial.
“I might be mad — well I am mad — because it would have been nice to have an easier introduction, but the ground is quick everywhere and Cheltenham looks the best option in this regard.”
Meanwhile, Meet The Legend, second favourite for Sunday’s StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, will not run.
Trainer Dan Skelton has been forced the rule the Highclere Thoroughbred Racing-owned five-year-old out of the valuable prize due to a minor setback.
Last seen finishing third in the Premier Hurdle at Kelso, he has had this race as his aim for some time.
“I’m not that happy with him, he’s just a little bit off colour and has a little bit of a cough,” said Skelton.
“It’s disappointing for the owners as he’s been absolutely fine for the last four months and has had this race as his target for a while.”