Altior became the first winner at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival last season when he scored in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle for trainer Nicky Henderson in impressive style, beating the ante-post favourite Min by seven lengths.
The son of High Chaparral has started his novice chase campaign with the view of lining up at the Festival again in March for the Arkle Challenge Trophy where he currently tops the market at 2/1.
Henderson has won the Arkle on five occasions. He was first successful in 1991 with Remittance Man. More recently Sprint Sacre and Simonsig won this race for the Seven Barrows trainer in 2012 and 2013 respectively. If Altior is successful later this season, he will be the single holder of the record for the most wins in this contest. He currently shares the record with Tom Dreaper who was most notably successful with Flyingbolt in 1965.
Altior made his debut over fences last week at Kempton, where he had just one opponent. As reported by Oddschecker in their Festival round-up, the six-year-old beat Black Corton by 63 lengths in a fine round of jumping. Some pundits found it difficult to judge how well he fared given the lack of opposition, however, his trainer was pleased with the way he got round the course.
Henderson is likely to find one or two tougher assignments before March as he looks to get his horse some more experience over fences. In case things don’t quite go to plan, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner does still have an entry in the Champion Hurdle if connections decide they want to switch backing to hurdling.
Min Set To continue Rivalry With Altior
The chief threat to Altior in the Arkle Challenge Trophy could be Min once again, the horse he battled with in his novice hurdles campaign. The five-year-old also made a winning start over fences at Navan. That was the horse’s first appearance since finishing second at the Festival at the back end of last season.
Min disputed the lead very early in his beginners’ chase, in which he did not make a mistake over the fences. He quickened up after the last obstacle to prevail by 10 lengths ahead of Three Wise Men.
Mullins’ French-bred horse still has very little experience in the UK and Ireland. That run at Navan last week was only his fourth outing outside of France. He made his debut in Ireland less than 12 months ago, scoring comfortably in a maiden hurdle.
The Irish trainer has a number of horses in his yard which could also run in the Arkle. However, his best chance looks to be with Min who is likely to be ridden by Mullins’ number one retained jockey Ruby Walsh.
In-Form Identity Thief on Course For Festival
Grade One winning hurdler Identity Thief is another Arkle Challenge Trophy contender who has started with a 100% record over fences. Trained by Henry De Bromhead in Ireland, the six-year-old has had two outings so far this season.
The novice chaser made his seasonal reappearance at Punchestown in October in a beginners’ chase, which he won by 14 lengths. He led four fences from home and then went clear of his rivals in a good start to his chase career.
Identity Thief followed up his debut with a second success at Punchestown last month in a Grade Two novice contest. He went off odds-on once again and he finished a length ahead of his stablemate Ordinary World on soft ground at the Irish track.
De Bromhead’s horse is currently an 8/1 shot for the Arkle in March – which is the clear objective for the novice chaser this season.