Cheltenham Festival clues at Sandown, Aintree and Punchestown this weekend

Cheltenham Festival clues: Reigning Champion Chase hero Politologue heads to Sandown this weekend
Cheltenham Festival clues: Reigning Champion Chase hero Politologue heads to Sandown this weekend

Steve Chambers looks at the top class racing from Sandown, Aintree and Punchestown this weekend, as Altior makes his return in the Tingle Creek, while the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown is another race that can provide some vital Cheltenham Festival clues...

Sandown 13:50, Saturday (Henry VIII Novices' Chase)

In the last decade, only one horse has stormed to glory in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase and gone on to claim Arkle Challenge Trophy glory, and that was the mighty Altior, who achieved the two-mile novice chasing double in the 2016/2017 National Hunt season. A stellar field will attempt to emulate the legendary Nicky Henderson-trained gelding on Saturday, with some already holding a prominent position in the betting for the Arkle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Dan Skelton's Allmankind produced an exquisite round of jumping en route to victory at Warwick last time out, and will be attempting to follow up with an equally dominant display on Saturday on his second chasing start. Currently a 25/1 shot for the Arkle, Allmankind's jumping can really excel at the tough jumping test of Sandown, but he will have some lively opposition with the Paul Nicholls-trained Hitman and Colin Tizzard's Eldorado Allen notable contenders. The former was a facile 30-length at Ffos Las on chasing debut, and will now make the huge step up in grade to try and hand Nicholls a fifth win in ten years, while Eldorado Allen (20/1 for Arkle) was a Grade 2 winner at Cheltenham last month, and will look to make it three wins from three over fences.

Another unbeaten novice chaser is Jamie Snowden's Ga Law, who has won three from three over fences and is a 28/1 shot for the Arkle, while Nicky Henderson's Fusil Raffles will look to bounce back from a poor showing at Cheltenham last time out, and adds more depth to what should offer a real pointer on whether any of these can become Cheltenham Festival contenders.

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Sandown 14:25, Saturday (Tingle Creek Chase)

National Hunt icon Altior will make his eagerly-anticipated return to the racecourse on Saturday, as the multiple Grade 1-winning superstar looks to record his sixth win from six visits to Sandown Park, as the Seven Barrows legend bids for a second victory in the Tingle Creek Chase. Having failed to line-up to try and win a third Queen Mother Champion Chase at last season's Cheltenham Festival, the ten-year-old was last seen winning the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury, and with the two-mile division wide open this season, Nicky Henderson's charge will look to propel to the head of the Champion Chase betting.

Currently second favourite behind Chacun Pour Soi in the Champion Chase betting, Altior will line up as an odds-on favourite for the Tingle Creek, a race he won in 2018, and it's a contest that has been won by the likes of Moscow Flyer (2004), Master Minded (2008), Sprinter Sacre (2012) and Altior himself, who have then gone on to win the Champion Chase the same season.

Taking on Altior on Saturday will be reigning Champion Chase hero Politologue, who won the Tingle Creek in 2017 and looks to grab more success, and duly enhance his claims for Champion Chase glory again, a race he is 16/1 for, at the time of writing. The improving youngster taking on the two proven class acts is the Paul Nicholls-trained Greaneteen, who was an easy winner of the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last time out and is 20/1 for the Champion Chase, while Rouge Vif is another on the upgrade, and adds more depth to the race.

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Aintree 14:40, Saturday (Many Clouds Chase)

There's terrific jumping action at Aintree, where some Grand National clues could emerge from the Becher Chase in the first part of the afternoon, but later in the day racegoers are treated to a thrilling renewal of the Many Clouds Chase, as former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River potentially locks horns with last season's Gold Cup runner-up Santini, while the former Ryanair Chase hero Frodon could also take his chance in a fascinating event.

First held in 2011, the Many Clouds Chase is still in its infancy, but it has quickly become a notable Cheltenham Gold Cup trial and Native River will be looking to retain the title he won last season. The 2018 Gold Cup winner was last seen winning the Denman Chase at Newbury in February, but missed out on running in the 2020 Gold Cup, however, the ten-year-old is back to try and throw his name into the Gold Cup picture once again, a race he is currently 50/1 for.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Tizzard's star will have his work cut out against Santini, who was last seen being narrowly beaten by Al Boum Photo in the blue riband event at the Cheltenham Festival, and his trainer Nicky Henderson is kicking off his quest for Gold Cup glory at Aintree on Saturday. A 7/1 second favourite for the March showpiece, Santini will return to Aintree for the first time since he won the 2018 Sefton Novices' Hurdle, and while he will strip fitter for the run, will be looking to start the season off on a winning note.

A magnificent weight-carrying display from Frodon at Cheltenham in October showed the fire still burns bright in the Paul Nicholls-trained raider, and a Gold Cup (25/1) campaign is pencilled in for him this year, and he is another exciting contender, while Al Dancer and Lake View Lad are another brace of eye-catching entries in what is a stormer on Merseyside.

Punchestown 13:40, Sunday (John Durkan Memorial Chase)

You have to go back all the way to the 2004/05 season to find a horse that won the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown and then went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the same season, and the horse that achieved that feat was the mighty Kicking King. Don Cossack won the 2014 John Durkan before tasting Gold Cup glory in 2016, while Sizing John won the 2017 John Durkan having won the Gold Cup earlier in the year, but the class of 2020 will be bidding for a notable Grade 1 success on Sunday, which will ultimately put them in the 2021 Cheltenham Festival picture.

Heading the latest John Durkan betting is Min, who has been victorious in the last two renewals of the race and is vying for the hat-trick this weekend. A 15/8 shot for the race, at the time of writing, Min is more likely to head down the Ryanair Chase route at the Cheltenham Festival, a race he is trading around the 10/1 second favourite mark, and the Willie Mullins-trained star is going to be a tough nut to crack.

Stablemate Allaho is one of those that could turn into a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, as he was last seen finishing third in the RSA Chase in March, and a win on Sunday will see his Gold Cup price of 25/1 contract significantly, while Battleoverdoyen and Samcro (both 33/1 for the Gold Cup) are another exciting duo taking their chance in what should be a real cracking feature race on Sunday afternoon.

Cheltenham Festival Races
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