With just under eight week until the Greatest Show on Turf, the Cheltenham Festival gets underway, National Hunt's leading superstar Altior is the star of the show this Saturday where action takes place from Ascot & Haydock Park. Our man Danny Archer has analysed the action:
Altior the star but Light could provide Magic Touch for Harrington
A competitive card at Ascot but undoubtedly the star of the show is top-class chaser Altior. Unbeaten in his last 16 starts, the nine-year-old son of High Chaparral can go with in one victory of equalling Big Buck's' all-time record of 18 consecutive wins if he lands the G1 Clarence House Chase (3.35pm). His victory in the G2 Desert Orchid Chase last time out was a procession, following on from his G1 Tingle Creek success & this looks another mere formality barring a fall. Fox Norton returns to the track after over a year out with injury & finished second in a Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2017. However, he is going to need this run, whilst Diego Du Charmil's form is on another planet to Altior, who is 19lb clear of that rival on ratings & 8lb ahead of Fox Norton. It's a shame that his participation has cut the field, but it is always a thrill to see the best chaser in training on the track.
Elsewhere, Magic Of Light makes plenty of appeal in the G2 OLBG.com Mares' Hurdle (1.50pm). An impressive winner of a Listed contest at Newbury last time out, she has a rating of 113 over hurdles & Jessica Harrington will be keen to exploit her lowly hurdles rating compared to her mark of 146 over fences. If You Say Run is a solid yardstick & must be feared but it's very interesting that Harrington is targeting further black-type.
The G3 Matchbook Holloway's Handicap Hurdle (2.25pm) is a competitive affair with Thosedaysaregone a fascinating Irish raider. A facile winner at Wetherby last week, he has been raised 9lb, but is trained by a master in Charles Byrnes, who knows how to ready one for a big handicap. He is interesting and receives plenty of weight from his chief market rivals. However, Ballymoy was a winner for this column in December, pulling clear for a decisive success and despite having to carry top-weight here, Je remains unexposed over hurdles and further improvement could still be on the cards.
Haydock Park also stages a good Jump card & the G2 Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle (2.05pm) has attracted a small but select field of six for the two-mile event.
A Supreme Novices' trial, Nicky Henderson saddles the favourite Mister Fisher, who bids to follow up an impressive victory at Kempton in Boxing Day. In behind him that day were horses including Thomas Darby, Didtheyleaveuoutto & The Big Bite, so the form has a strong look to it. His main opposition looks likely to come from Bright Forecast who has won both of his starts under rules. A last-gasp victory at Newbury was followed up by a front-running win at Leicester last time. However, I've been failed to be impressed with his jumping & Mister Fisher looks the more solid contender.
The New One Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial (2.40pm), named in honour of The New One, a four-time winner of this event, could provide Champion Hurdle clues, although this does look a poor renewal. Following the omission of Brain Power, it's hard to escape the chances of Silver Streak who finished a good second in the Unibet International Hurdle last time our behind that rival. A decisive winner of the Swinton Hurdleover course and distance in April, his other results this season have been a Welsh Champion Hurdle success & a narrow second in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, highlighting his strong level of form. That makes him a clear from pick in my opinion & he should take plenty of stopping.
The G2 Peter Marsh Chase is another highlight at Haydock (3.15pm) & following the withdrawal of Valtor, Otago Trail has been smashed up for Venetia Williams & Hugh Nugent. Soft conditions will be massively in his favour & he was second in this event in 2017. However, I'm keen to support Daklondike in this event. He battled on tenaciously to score over course and distance last time out & conditions are a major positive.
A good day of action but of course we all want to see Altior register win no.17