Can Altior be beaten?
Altior has been badly served by his date of birth. His greatness emerged just as his older stable companion, the brilliant Sprinter Sacre, left the stage.
Sprinter was a supermodel of a horse, deeply sheened coat, athletic, with a nonchalance in the way he raced, jumped, and won. The supplemental drama of career-threatening heart problems merely added lustre to his legend and deepened the public reverence.
Somehow, Altior seems to be mere satin amid all that silk. Yet, today in the Champion Chase he runs in his 19th race over obstacles and has yet to taste defeat. Despite this incredible record, his official rating is almost a stone below the best of Sprinter Sacre and, to add insult to injury, he is now even rated three pounds lower than the improving Cyrname who, let’s remember, was only third of five in an intermediate chase at Carlisle last November.
So, can he be beaten? Probably not. If you take him out of today’s race, the rest are a relatively moderate bunch for a race like this and he has beaten most of them out of sight already. However, the nagging image from last year remains, when he was off the bridle and strapped for speed coming down the hill and had to be hard driven before eventually asserting his authority over the less than mighty Min.
Nicky Henderson has been hinting lately that he may be ready to be upped in distance, and if today’s race is scrappily run at a slow pace he could be a tiny bit vulnerable in a sprint finish.
Less may be more
One of the most grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, and unprecedented events in modern Cheltenham history occurred a couple of weeks ago. It was February 27, and the entries to the Bumper, today’s concluding race, had just been published. There were 28 entrants and only two of them, Blue Sari and Mount Leinster, were trained by Willie Mullins!
Willie always seems happier in himself when the variables, options, and uncertainties facing him are infinite. Multiple entries in many races, late decisions reluctantly made, postponed choices, are all grist to his mill. There might well be an undiscovered Nobel prize-winning algorithm that will explain it all some day, but Newton came too soon, and Einstein and Hawking are both dead. We’ll just have to wait.
Mount Leinster was taken out on March 7, which means that only Blue Sari represents the stable which has colonised this race from the outset, and usually sends battalions to ensure that things stay that way.
The last time Mullins sent only one raider to the bumper was 14 years ago, when Missed That won by a neck. Blue Sari made a stunning career start when winning the bumper at Gowran on Thyestes Day, beating the highly thought of Front View by 11 lengths with the rest nowhere. This surprised his trainer who described his home work as ‘dour.’ Subsequently bought by JP McManus, the four-year-old gets a handy eight weight for age pounds from most of the field and has been backed into second favourite.
Nobody can complain that all the signs aren’t there, and if you leave him unbacked, it could be a GUBU decision.
The Real Supreme Novice?
While the first race yesterday is grandly titled the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, today’s opening contest operates under the far less glamourous handle of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. If you didn’t know any better, you might think today’s contest is subservient but, despite Klassical Dream’s emphatic victory yesterday, he might not yet have secured bragging rights as the year’s top novice. Far from it.
Both races are Grade Ones, and the only difference is the extra five furlongs they travel today. On paper at least, the Ballymore field could contain more stars in the long run — after all, this is the novice race that Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, and Faugheen all won before they galloped into legend.
The two chief protagonists are fascinating prospects. Champ, trained by Nicky Henderson, is named in honour of AP McCoy, an honoured member of owner JP McManus’s entourage. They will have chosen the name carefully and they have been cautious with him, as he has only his sixth run over hurdles at age seven. What is clear is that he is improving rapidly and his win in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury at the turn of the year is arguably the best pre-festival novice performance.
The main opposition is Gordon Elliott’s Battleoverdoyen, who will try to emulate last year’s winner, Samcro. He was bought after winning a point-to-point at Loughanmore and is unbeaten in a bumper and two novice events since. His performances are dripping with class, he has speed and stamina in abundance, and may be the true champ to emerge from today’s contest. Whatever happens today, he isalmost sure to reach the top when switched to fences.