Cheltenham Festival: Serious challenge awaits Altior in Queen Mother Champion Chase

Altior, last year's Arkle victor and unbeaten from seven starts, has at times been nearly as imperious as his older rival, but he, too, has hardly had an ideal preparation this time, with his breathing operation and recent alarm, although it has to be said he looked pretty much as good as ever when beating Politologue on his comeback at Newbury last month.

"This hasn't been easy and yesterday was as bad as it gets", said Henderson.

G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and will be partnered by Patrick Mullins, who already has a victor on the board this Festival.

Willie Mullins has been fulsome in his praise of Laurina, who bids to provide him with a third successive win in the Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle.

"We were anxious last week with the snow that it might even have been cancelled but I think it's going to be busier than ever", he said.

The going here remains soft, heavy in places, having swapped around from heavy, soft in places midway through Tuesday's card, while the going on the Cross Country course, which stages its sole race of the meeting later on, is also soft, heavy in places. Assuming and hoping they all rock up in good nick I will stick with Altior who has already proven himself quite superior to Min (Fr) at the Festival two years ago and he has the benefit of a run this season over Douvan. Henderson trained one of them, See You Then, to take the prize in 1985, 1986 and 1987 and McManus owned another in Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000). "The first big race we ever won was the Champion Hurdle in the See You Then days", said Henderson.

"It's going to be fun, it's got to be, otherwise we wouldn't be doing it".

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"God willing we'll be trying again next year". He is a really good young horse; he did what he had to today. Even if they thought it was a penalty kick and he got a battle, he did what he had to do and did it well.

Willie Mullins went through the first two days without a victor last time around, however, and still managed to finish the meeting with half a dozen.

Brilliant though Douvan was - and Mullins once described the 2016 Arkle Trophy victor as "like another species" - it is perhaps asking a little too much of the now 10-year-old to come back after a full year off with injuries and various niggles to win the biggest prize in his calendar.

Winning trainer Tom George said: "He must have a huge engine". The horse is fine - all my runners have come back fine. His yard are in much better form now and interestingly he has also had a wind op since his last run.

The ex- point-to- pointer has won both his bumpers so far, soft ground holds no fears for him and we know he stays well beyond two miles.

"Now the worry is for him to keep fit and well".

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