The second Championship race of the Cheltenham Festival, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, is the centrepiece on Wednesday afternoon in the Cotswolds.
Run over two miles at breakneck speed and demanding fast, accurate fencing, this is no race for the faint of heart.
Paul Nicholls would dearly love a record-equalling sixth career win in the race but his old rival, Nicky Henderson, is holding the ace card in our Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview.
Altior to Win and Each Way @ 5/4 - BET NOW
Unbeaten over jumps and unbowed on his return to action despite some worries from his all-conquering champion trainer Nicky Henderson, Altior swept all before him last season as a novice chaser, winning the Arkle at Cheltenham either side of stepping into open company to win the Game Spirit at Newbury and the Celebration Chase at Sandown.
His return to action was delayed as he underwent wind surgery to assist his breathing and, boy, did he look good in his comeback. The ground was against him, the three-runner race was tactically controlled by Tingle Creek winner and most-improved two-miler Politologue, and yet Altior bypassed him with sheer contempt hard on the bridle after the final fence under a supremely confident Nico de Boinville.
Given the strides Politologue has made this season, it was some statement. Altior is now rock-solid at the top of the Queen Mother Champion Chase odds and it will take a massive performance to floor him at Cheltenham. Henderson has claimed three of the previous six runnings of this contest and Altior, the apple of his eye and two from two at this meeting, is primed to give him more joy.
Min to Win and Each Way @ 3/1 - BET NOW
Prior to Altior's winning reappearance in the Game Spirit, Min was set to headline our Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips. So good was the former, his task just got that bit harder. We have been waiting nearly two years for a rematch between these two and, with both in brilliant form, it promises to be a mouth-watering occasion.
Altior came out best in the 2016 Supreme Novices' Hurdle as hot-favourite Min was forced to settle for second spot. Last season they looked to be heading for another dust down in the Arkle before injury halted Min's progress.
Willie Mullins' charge is now back on track. He blotted his copybook at Christmas when passing the post first but losing his Leopardstown race to Simply Ned in the stewards' room. Min was lit up early on in that race and proved himself a good deal better when readily accounting for the same rival at the Dublin Racing Festival recently.
That win put him right in the Champion Chase picture and he is surely the horse most likely to give Altior a worry as he bids to give his trainer a first Championship success over fences at the Cheltenham Festival.
Douvan to Win and Each Way @ 11/4 - BET NOW
Given that Altior dismissed Politologue with such ease on his return, it is hard to see how Nicholls' charge can hope to reverse the form - barring an accident. Politologue has also been the most upwardly mobile two-mile chaser this season so finding alternatives in the market after his bubble burst is a challenge.
That brings us to Douvan, who went off the long odds-on favourite in this race last year before losing his unbeaten record, picking up an injury mid-race. Earlier in the season, trainer Mullins ruled him out for this campaign after being underwhelmed by his homework.
The Closutton supremo has since revised his position, with Douvan rated a 50/50 chance now to make Cheltenham. At his best, he is one sure-fire contender to give Altior something to think about. Does the talent remain? Only time will tell but at odds of 10/1 and with a no-run-no-bet concession he might be worth chancing in what appears a one-sided market.
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