For National Hunt racing fans, there is nothing quite like the Cheltenham Festival.
For four days, the meeting is top-rated action, with each race throwing up its own interwoven storyline and reason to watch.
This year, for me, the most exciting prospect of the week is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in which two-time champion chaser Altior will try to beat off his younger contenders in Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi – assuming, of course, he recovers in time after being reported lame.
Ten-year-old Altior is a superstar. The only time he hasn't finished first in his 21 runs was at Ascot in November when he was runner-up to Cyrname.
There are questions over that loss too. He didn’t look comfortable in running and wasn’t racing over his optimal distance. Yet despite his record, the bookmakers and pundits don’t have him as the outright favourite.
Defi Du Seuil is many people’s tip. The seven-year-old is undoubtedly a top horse and already has Cheltenham pedigree, having won the 2017 Triumph Hurdle and last year’s JLT Novices Chase.
He comes into the festival in excellent form with two wins over the now retired Un de Sceaux in the Tingle Creek and Clarence House chases.
Wins in those two races would normally land a horse as odds-on for the Champions Chase, but this year that isn’t quite so.
The other horse at the top of the market is Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi, who beat Defi Du Seuil by four-and-a-half lengths at Punchestown last year.
Since then he has been a smart runner-up to A Plus Tard, who is many people’s banker of the week in the Ryanair Chase, and also won handily at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.
There is no doubt that all three have chances. But for me, to have them all so close in the betting, with each being around the 5/2 mark, is actually disrespectful to Altior.
In horse racing, like many other sports, there is a growing tendency to look at the most youthful option and assume it to be the best. Whereas experience and what is ironically referred to as ‘a proven track record’ used to be highly-coveted, in recent times that has gone out the window.
In football, it’s now seen as a sin for top teams to sign a player even close to 30 years old, regardless of their proven ability. They are no longer considered to be in their prime.
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