Alex Hammond: Take on Altior at Cheltenham Festival

Alex Hammond: IS Altior really back to his best?

Sky Sports Racing's Alex Hammond remains unconvinced that Altior is back to his best and would rather side against him at Cheltenham.

What did you make of the performances of Altior and Native River at Newbury?

It was marvellous to see Altior back into the winner’s enclosure and he looks to be heading back to his best. Nico de Boinville told Sky Sports Racing that he will improve for the Newbury win and that will have knocked some of the rust off him. He certainly accelerated in the final stages of the race, or “put the burners on” as his jockey described it, but I fear the younger brigade may have his measure in the Champion Chase.

I’m not speaking out of line when I say he’s still not back to his brilliant best, but can Nicky Henderson get that out of him in March? Altior is Sky Bet’s 2/1 favourite for the Champion Chase, but Chacun Pour Soir at 11/4 is slightly more tempting. Defi Du Seuil splits the pair at 9/4. It should be an epic contest.

I was really impressed with Native River. He’s a 10/1 shot with Sky Bet to repeat his win in the Gold Cup in 2018 and at the moment that could be decent each-way value. We are experiencing one of the wettest winters for some time, will that continue into March?

If it does then that 10/1 will look fantastic value as it will place more emphasis on stamina. He went really well for Jonjo O’Neill Junior, providing the conditional jockey with his most prestigious win to date. Richard Johnson may well be back in time to ride at the Festival, but if not, he’d be in safe hands.

Native River under Jonjo O'Neill Jr

How impressed were you with Shiskin and Chantry House last week and what are their Cheltenham prospects?

Shishkin has an official rating of 153 after his performance at Huntingdon and you couldn’t fail to be impressed with Nicky Henderson’s young hurdler. Aside from his fall at Newbury in December, he has done nothing wrong in his burgeoning career. He’s a fabulous individual, is a slick jumper, has got gears and it’s the Sky Bet Supreme at the Festival for him now, for which he’s 11/4 with the sponsors.

Henderson also trains Chantry House who is now rated 140 after making it two from two over hurdles at Newbury on Saturday. He could meet his stablemate in the Festival opener and is now 8/1 with Sky Bet to win it. He also has the option of the Ballymore (also 8/1) but neither race looks softer than the other.

Henderson said after the weekend that he wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted another half a mile, so it will be intriguing to see if they clash at the Festival or not. Obviously, on the new official ratings issued to both horses, Chantry House has plenty to find with his stablemate, but they are both improving, long-term projects, that will come into their own in time over fences.

Shishkin: Already has a big rating

Big card at Ascot on Saturday. What are your early thoughts?

There is Grade 1 action at Ascot with the mighty Cyrname back in action at a track we know suits him incredibly well.

He’s 8/15 favourite with Sky Bet to win his fourth race over fences at the Berkshire venue and on the face of it will be hard to beat. He might not have it all his own way with the quirky, but talented Riders Onthe Storm in the line-up. There’s no doubt the latter is improving fast and at 3/1 might look a more attractive bet.

On the face of it he has something to find though, despite that progressive profile. Ascot has been the making of Cyrname and trainer Paul Nicholls feels he has him back where he wants him for this Ascot contest after his King George defeat.

Sam Brown can make it three from three over fences in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase for in form Anthony Honeyball.

We spoke to the trainer on Sky Sports Racing a few weeks ago and it was evident he thinks plenty of his eight-year-old. He did well to win two races in relatively short succession after a long layoff with injury problems and he’s had time to freshen up since then.

With his stable in red-hot form, he will be strongly fancied to remain unbeaten over fences and he’s 11/4 third in the betting with Sky Bet to do so. He has tonnes of stamina and has the option of the RSA or National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

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