I’m all for trying to find chinks in the armour of horses chalked up at 4-9 and those desperate to oppose him can point to the fact that he jumped out to his left at Ascot last time and that he has not been at his imperious best at the past two Festivals.
However, Altior not keeping straight or being a notch below top gear is still superior to anything else around at the moment. There’s nothing coming through the ranks among his eight rivals and he has already used his biggest rivals, Min, as a punch bag on two occasions.
The sport needs its superstars and I hope he wins handsomely before going on to score over half a mile further at Aintree next month. If his connection are serious about going for the King George at the end of the year, and not just teasing us, then that surely has to be the next step.
The card kicks off with the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle and I'm keen to play because the market leaders look vulnerable. I’m not sure the combination of Cheltenham/soft ground will suit Champ, who is more about speed that stamina, while Battleoverdoyen looks priced more on potential than form.
City Island, owned by the race sponsor, is the interesting one for punting purposes at 10-1.
It goes without saying that this race will have been at the top of his agenda for some while and he has looked a potential top-notcher in winning all three of his starts over hurdles this term, albeit losing one after being disqualified because of a prohibited substance.
That means he has had the distinction of “winning” two maiden hurdles, but they’ve not been ordinary ones.
On the first occasion he emphatically beat Getareason, subsequently placed behind Battleoverdoyen in Grade One company when beaten a similar margin, and the second time he thumped Dallas Des Pictons, now a leading fancy for the Martin Pipe on Friday.
He comes in slightly under the radar because he has been kept away from graded company but don’t let that put you off.
Uradel jumps off the page in the Coral Cup because he’s unexposed stepping up in distance and favourably handicapped relative to his Flat form.
I’d have been with him on better ground but this could be an attritional renewal (soft ground and high winds) and that sways me more to Cracking Smart, who was among the leading novice hurdlers last year and is proven over further in the mud.
His third behind Tiger Roll, his stablemate, in the Boyne Hurdle last time should have put him spot for this assignment. The 12-1 look fair.
Talking of Tiger Roll, he is understandably trading at cramped odd to retain his Glenfarclas Cross-Country Crown.
However, he usually wins when underestimated in the market – his past five triumphs have been at 20-1, 16-1, 7-1, 10-1 and 25-1 – and he has been beaten on ten of the past 11 occasions he has gone off at single-figure odds.
At the prices, I’d rather back French challenger Urgent De Gregaine each-way at 12-1. He’s something of a track specialist and looked like winning last year’s renewal for most of the way only for Tiger Roll to get on top close home.
The ground cannot be as bad as it was 12 months ago and perhaps he will last home a little better. If he does, he may well turn the tables.
Market leaders Band Of Outlaws and Lethal Steps have stamina questions to answer in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
I’ll probably look to lay both out of the frame at short odds in-running (the pair are likely to travel well for a long way) and fancy Star Max for win purposes.
He found the German Derby beyond him in the summer but has shown progressive form over jumps, jumping much more fluently on his latest start when beating a big field at Gowran.
I’d imagine Santini will be a drifter before the RSA Chase because of his recent injury scare but there’s no way Nicky Henderson would risk him unless he was 100 per cent.
His clash with Topofthegame and Delta Work promises to be a belter but the prices look right and so it’s a no-bet race for me, for all I’m one of Topofthegame’s biggest fans.
I’m also going to sit out the Champion Bumper because it’s an annual guessing game, reflected by six of the past ten winners being 14-1 or bigger.
How To Bet £20 on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival:
1.30 City Isand £3 win and £1 each-way at 10-1 with Boylesports and Coral
2.50 Cracking Smart £1.50 win and £2 each-way at a general 12-1
4.10 Urgent De Gregaine £2 each-way at a general 12-1
4.50 Star Max £1.50 win and £1.50 each-way at 16-1 with bet365 and Unibet
Plus a 50p each-way fourfold
Above quartet in a 40p Each-Way Lucky Fifteen (costing £12) plus
Placepot perm (Eight £1 lines costing £8)
Leg 1: 8 - City Island and 2 - Battleoverdoyen
Leg 2: 10 – Topofthegame and 2 - Delta Work
Leg 3: 9 – Cracking Smart and 22 - Uradel
Leg 4: 1 - Altior
Leg 5: 15 – Urgent De Gregaine
Le 6: 18 – Star Max