THE big guns are back at Sandown this Saturday and they don't come any more famous than Altior.
After a topsy-turvy campaign last year, he's out to set the record straight in the Grade 1 Betfair Tingle Creek. But he faces five rivals all hoping to snap at his heels.
Altior – Henderson/De Boinville
There is no doubting Altior's class and ability, but there is also no doubt he has a point to prove.
He has dominated this two-mile chase division for a number of seasons, but last year suffered his first defeat over an obstacle and missed plenty of time through various niggles.
Added to that, he is now ten, turning 11 in the new year. He has also been off the track since February and was beaten on his return last year.
He deserves to be favourite, clearly, and by some margin. But at odds-on I am happy to watch.
He should be good enough to see these off, but there are some new young guns coming through and it's an intriguing match-up.
Politologue – Nicholls/Skelton
Last year's Champion Chase winner also makes his return and often running fresh can be the time to catch him.
But many still doubt if he is truly top-class. The Champion Chase last year fell apart, no doubt, and Altior has swatted him away the three times they've met.
But the rain will be welcome and he's won this race before.
At the very least, he will make Altior work. We know the level he operates at, and if Altior is under-cooked, you can bet that Paul Nicholls will have his pair ready to make it count.
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Greaneteen – Nicholls/Cobden
You just knew Paul Nicholls would be throwing the kitchen sink at this race. Altior doesn't scare them off like he once might have.
And this young pretender could well be a new star in this division.
He's had a steady ride, but looks set to make the cut at the top at some point this season. His Exeter win last time signalled intent.
He's had much less racing than a lot of these and we don't know his ceiling just yet. It's unlikely he's as good as Altior for now, but as we know, Altior might not be the Altior we once knew.
Rouge Vif – Whittington/Sheehan
Likely to go off in front, Rouge Vif was brilliant last time at Cheltenham.
It was a big step up, but it was only handicap. And here he is taking on the best.
I'd like his chances a lot more had the rain not arrived, but it looks as if he'll have to contend with soft ground, if they don't pull him out.
He has fitness on his side and could have caught a few of these cold. I just think he needs good ground to be at his very best, and he needs to reach those levels in this company.
Brewin'upastorm – Murphy/Coleman
A forgotten horse to most, he's talented on his day. But it's a big leap of faith to chance him here.
Dropped back in trip he must have a sniff of winning a big one before the season is out, but I can't see him challenging the big guns here.
He's one to keep an eye on later in the season and when the yard really hit their stride.
Castlegrace Paddy – Fahy/Cooper
The rain will be more than welcome for the sole Irish raider.
It's a bold shout jumping in to this company, but he's already upset A Plus Tard this season and this might be a more open Grade 1 than usual.
He'll likely be up with the pace and if in the mix late on could well be a player. But is he good enough? Probably not.
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