superstar steeplechaser Altior could face a maximum of just three rivals in Saturday’s Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
A combination of unseasonably good ground – and the horse’s precocious reputation – has seen the field decimated for this two-mile test as Altior looks to extend his winning sequence to 17, just one short of the modern-day record set by Big Buck’s from 2009-13.
Absentees include Malton trainer Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently, who needs significant cut in the ground to be seen at his best.
She will be hoping for significant rainfall ahead of next month’s two-and-a-half mile Ascot Chase, which Waiting Patiently won last year.
Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson, has looked imperious this season, winning the Tingle Creek Chase from Un De Sceaux before having little more than a canter round to win the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on December 27.
Un De Sceaux is one of his potential opponents again and he would be trying to win the race for a fourth time.
Willie Mullins’s charge turned 11 on New Year’s Day, but proved he is far from a back number when pushing Altior all the way at Sandown.
However, it is no secret he is a mud lover and with the ground already good, good to soft in places and little rain forecast, his participation is far from certain.
Colin Tizzard’s Fox Norton is due to return from the injury that has kept him off the track since the 2017 King George VI Chase.
Prior to that he had shown his class in winning the Melling Chase at Aintree and Punchestown’s Champion Chase.
The fourth possible runner is Paul Nicholls’s Diego Du Charmil, who chased home Altior at Kempton over Christmas, albeit to be beaten 19 lengths.
Meanwhile, Henderson’s Brain Power will put his Champion Hurdle credentials on the line in Saturday’s The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock.
After a relatively luckless spell over fences, the talented eight-year-old returned to the smaller obstacles last time out and was an impressive winner of the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Second that day was Silver Streak, who has also been entered and will be meeting Brain Power on better terms.
County Hurdle winner Mohaayed, Ben Pauling’s Global Citizen and Colin Tizzard’s Pingshou are also among the 10.
2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur appears among 22 entries in the Peter Marsh Chase.
He unseated his jockey on his comeback at Aintree, and Lucinda Russell will be hoping the ground does not get too quick.
David Pipe has three in the mix. Daklondike won Haydock’s Tommy Whittle last time out, Vieux Lion Rouge was successful in the Grand National Trial at this track in 2017, and Ramses De Teillee was runner-up in the Welsh National.
Yorkshire hopes in this Grade Two race rest with Sue Smith’s admirably consistent Wakanda, who is looking for his first win since landing Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase nearly a year ago.
Kim Bailey will let the dust settle on Charbel’s defeat at Kempton on Saturday before committing to future targets.
The eight-year-old has enjoyed a fine season so far, winning a Chepstow handicap and finishing second to Politologue in a Grade Two at Ascot before landing the Edredon Bleu Chase, better known as the Peterborough, at Huntingdon.
He went in search of another win in Listed company over the weekend, but could finish only third behind Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch and the Paul Nicholls-trained Black Corton. Bailey said: “He’s fine. I don’t think the watered ground really suited him – he just couldn’t bounce off it like he can on better ground.”
Charbel’s only Cheltenham Festival entry is in the Ryanair Chase.
Another Bailey inmate who went into Saturday with apparently strong claims of landing a significant win was Rocky’s Treasure.
Having won four of his previous five starts over fences, including victories at Wetherby and Doncaster, the Westerner gelding was a hot favourite for a Listed prize at Warwick.
However, his jumping lacked fluency and he had to make do with minor honours behind Henderson’s Ok Corral and the Nicholls-trained Secret Investor.
“I wasn’t too disappointed with him, to be honest. The winner is a good horse, and the runner-up won the Persian War (Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow),” said phlegmatic Bailey.
“Our horse wouldn’t have been able to do that and I think he was maybe a bit over-hyped after winning a few races over fences.
“The tight track wouldn’t have been ideal, but I’m not making excuses – he just wasn’t good enough.”