Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Altior made it seven wins from seven starts over fences on his return to action in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury following a breathing operation. Any doubts over whether Nicky Henderson's charge would be ring rusty following an absence of nearly ten months were so dispelled as the former Supreme NH and Arkle winner disposed of Grade 1 winning chaser Politologue with consumate ease under Nico De Boinville. Held up early on, he toyed with Paul Nicholls' grey and is on odds on to make it three successive victories at the Festival next month. It promises to be an intriguing clash between the eight year old and last weekend's Leopardstown winner and old rival Min. With Special Tiara likely to set a strong tempo, this year's Queen Mother Champion Chase ought to provide a magnificent spectacle from the outset.
Rookie trainer Amy Murphy enjoyed his biggest day as a trainer thus far as Kalashnikov became the seventh novice to win the Betfair Hurdle in the last nine years. Runner-up in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last time, the giant gelding was making his handicap debut off a mark of 141. Despite being pushed along before the home turn, the Kalanisi gelding responded well to Jack Quinlan's urgings and he stayed on too strongly for Bleu Et Rouge to win by four and a half lengths. His connections will now decide whether he tackles the Supreme or Ballymore NH at the Cheltenham Festival. While bred to improve again for better ground, I wonder whether he would be quick enough to win the Festival opener on good to soft. The underfoot conditions will almost certainly dictate his Cheltenham plans.
The runner-up has performed well in two big handicaps in the UK this winter, having also performed admirably at Ascot before Christmas. It is worth remembering he contested the Albert Bartlett NH at the Cheltenham Festival a couple of years ago having won the Deloitte Hurdle over two and a quarter miles. Therefore I feel Bleu Et Rouge could be a major player for the Coral Cup, although he is arguably at his best with plenty of give underfoot. A stronger traveller, he should improve for a return to a longer distance. William H Bonney crept into contention turning for home and I thought he would go close jumping the third last. However, not for the first time, Alan King's gelding didn't find as much as expected once off the bridle and his effort flattened out. Another novice, Lalor, was bitterly disappointing. The Grade 2 winning bumper performer was ridden along before the home straight and faded tamely. Perhaps he wants better ground but even so, this was a poor effort.
The Grade 2 Kingmaker Novice Chase at Warwick has been won by some very good horses over the years and the ex-French gelding Saint Calvados added his name to the roll of honour. Unbeaten in three starts over fences since joining Harry Whittington, the five year old jumped brilliantly and had his rivals in trouble a long way from home. Rated 154, he ran out a twenty two lengths winner and booked his place in next month's Arkle Trophy. A bold front runner, it could be a fascinating duel from the outset with him and Footpad going head to head.
Finally, I strongly suggest readers of One Jump Ahead keep an eye on the horse featured at the bottom of page 31 who had his third run over hurdles this afternoon. Having travelled and jumped well, he certainly wasn't subjected to an aggressive ride before staying on nicely. Now qualified for handicaps, his rating is unlikely to be severe and he is much better than he has shown thus far. Most definitely one to follow from now onwards.
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