If the weather forecast is correct (improbable I know) we’ll finally get to see Altior back on the racecourse on Saturday.
In his absence, Politologue has ruled the roost, winning the Haldon Gold Cup, the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase. He defeated Fox Norton at Sandown, though only just. The pair are set to clash again and it’s possible they’ll give a ring-rusty Altior a run for his money.
Politologue’s owner, John Hales, is certainly excited at the prospect of meeting the best two-mile chaser in the business. He told Press Association Sport: “He's (Politologue) been electric this year and I'm looking forward to it. It's nice to see Altior is going to run. It will be a good contest and that's what it's all about. When he's stood up, he's unbeaten over two miles. It took us some time to realise that was his trip but since we have, there's been no looking back.
“The only time he's lost over two (miles) over fences was at Aintree, when he'd have probably won anyway. His jumping is his biggest asset. He's very quick and very accurate. I call him a coat-of-paint job, because he leaves no gap between himself and the fence - there's no air. That's a trait of all the best two-milers, looking back at them.”
Hales is one of the great enthusiasts and deserves to own a high-class racehorse. Nevertheless, Altior has looked a breed apart and if back to near his best will surely prove too hot to handle. Speaking earlier in the week, a typically cautious Nicky Henderson said of his star chaser: “He's going to get beaten one day, probably. I think you've got to look at it that way. I'd like to get a race into him and if he gets beaten, he gets beaten. I suppose that this is the time that he's going to be at his most vulnerable, but in the interests of him trying to win the Champion Chase I think it's good for him to have a run.”
It’s certain to be another emotional day for the racing fraternity, with Cloudy Dream contesting the Denman Chase. Formerly trained by Malcolm Jefferson, the stable is now in the hands of daughter Ruth following the recent death of her father. And the eight-year-old has a great chance of landing the prestigious race, especially as favourite, Native River, will be returning from an 11-month lay-off.
Tizzard’s classy chaser will use this as a prep for the Gold Cup in March. His owner, Garth Broom, said of his return: “He's as ready as you can get him at home without having a race. All the reports are that Colin [Tizzard] and his team are very happy with him. In the past he's always wanted one race as a warm-up and this is what the idea is. If he got beat, as long as he ran a good race, it wouldn't be a complete disaster. It's the means to an end to get him to the Gold Cup.”
Broom added: “What happened last year was we were running him in the big races to see if he was a Gold Cup horse. Now we know he is, we didn't have to go through that process. The form of the stable dipped slightly at Cheltenham last year and he was beaten only two and three-quarter lengths and nutted on the line by Minella Rocco, his old foe. He loves Newbury. He's run in three chases there, the Hennessy and Denman last season and a novice the season before, and he's never been beaten there over fences, I'm hoping it will continue.”
Another talented horse on the comeback trail is Barters Hill. Trained by Ben Pauling, the eight-year-old has been off the track for more than a year after sustaining an injury on his chasing debut at Cheltenham. Back over hurdles this weekend, connections will be hoping for a trouble-free round before making plans for the remainder of the campaign. “It's very much the plan to go on Saturday at Newbury,” said Pauling. “He's in good order and it will be great to have him back out.”