Altior headlines 22 entries for the £400,000 G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the highlight on day two of The Festival™ presented by Magners, Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 13 at Cheltenham.
Trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by Patricia Pugh, Altior is undefeated in three starts at The Festival™ presented by Magners and is going for back-to-back victories over the Old Course at Cheltenham in the two-mile Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, following an impressive seven-length victory over Min (Willie Mullins IRE) in 2018.
He won the 2017 G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase emphatically and the 2016 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in tremendous style, also by seven lengths from Min.
Altior is the 1/2 favourite with Betway on the back of a very easy success in the G2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on December 27, the nine-year-old's 16th consecutive victory over obstacles, further consolidating his unbeaten record over fences (11 starts) and previously hurdles (five starts).
If successful, he would bring Henderson's sixth Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase victory, equalling the record for a trainer in the race held by the late Tom Dreaper.
Willie Mullins accounts for four of the 10 Irish-trained entries, with Min accompanied by last year's impressive G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase winner Footpad (8/1), nine-time G1 scorer Un De Sceaux (10/1)and Great Field (10/1).
The Irish challenge also includes 12-year-old Special Tiara (Henry de Bromhead IRE), winner of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2017, and G2 Hilly Way Chase victor Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy IRE, 50/1).
Sceau Royal (Alan King) is the shortest-priced British-trained contender behind Altior at 16/1. He defeated Simply Ned (Nicky Richards, 25/1) by two and a quarter lengths in the G2 Shloer Chase at The November Meeting but was no match for Altior when fourth in the G1 Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park in December.
Popular 12-year-old Simply Ned, whose stables are in Cumbria, humbled several of the Irish contenders, including runner-up Footpad, on their own turf when landing the G1 Paddy's Rewards Club "Sugar Paddy" Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Fellow Northern-trained Lady Buttons (Phil Kirby, 40/1) is the only mare among the entries. The nine-year-old is three from three so far this season, taking in a Listed hurdle at Wetherby, a competitive handicap chase at Newbury and most recently a two and a half-mile Listed chase at Doncaster on December 29.
Her record over fences stands at four wins from five starts. A mare has yet to win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, with the last one to be placed being the great Anaglogs Daughter - runner-up to Drumgora in 1981.
North Yorkshire-based Phil Kirby said: "Lady Buttons has come out of Doncaster in good form.
"We were delighted with her performance and this season, she has just kept on improving.
"She has always been a horse we have held in high regard. She had a couple of niggles earlier on in her career, but the last couple of seasons have been excellent and she has progressed with every run.
"We have entered her in the Champion Chase. We are still to make a decision as to where she runs next as there are not a whole load of options at two miles for mares.
"It was pleasing at Doncaster that she demonstrated she stays further."
Paul Nicholls, who has won the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on five occasions, has G1 Melling Chase victor and last year's fourth Politologue (25/1) among his two contenders, while Colin Tizzard's sole entry is the 2017 runner-up Fox Norton (25/1).
Other notables include God's Own (Tom George, 40/1), who came home third in the 2018 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington, 25/1).
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase - Betway prices: 1/2 Altior; 8/1 Footpad; 10/1 Min; Great Field, Sceau Royal, Un De Sceaux; 25/1 Fox Norton, Politologue, Saint Calvados, Simply Ned; 33/1 Diego Du Charmil, Petit Mouchoir; 40/1 God's Own, Lady Buttons; 50/1 Castlegrace Paddy, Doctor Phoenix, Ordinary World; 66/1 A Toi Phil, Forest Bihan, Hell's Kitchen, Ozzie The Oscar
Record number of Irish entries in Ryanair Chase
Northern chasing star Waiting Patiently is among 44 entries, including a record 29 from Ireland, for the £350,000 G1 Ryanair Chase over an extended two and a half miles of the New Course at Cheltenham on day three of The Festival™ presented by Magners, St Patrick's Thursday, March 14.
Waiting Patiently, trained by Yorkshire-based Ruth Jefferson who had the 2018 Ryanair Chase third Cloudy Dream, has won six of his seven starts over fences, with his most notable success coming in the G1 Ascot Chase at Ascot in February.
The lightly-raced eight-year-old, owned by Richard Collins, met his first defeat over fences last time out when hampered and unseating regular partner Brian Hughes at the ninth fence in the G1 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on December 26.
10-time champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls has two leading contenders in Frodon and Politologue, who is also entered in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Frodon has taken his form to a new level this season, winning the G2 Monet's Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree and the G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup for the second time at The International in December.
13 of the record 29 Irish-trained entries are from the stable of Willie Mullins, Ireland's champion Jump trainer. The pick of the Mullins' contenders are Al Boum Photo, Footpad, impressive G1 Savills Chase victor Kemboy, 2017 winner Un De Sceaux, who was also second last year, and Min, who proved himself over two and a half miles with a decisive success in the G1 John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in December.
Fellow Irish training behemoth Gordon Elliott's has six contenders including Shattered Love and The Storyteller, both of whom were successful over course and distance at The Festival™ presented by Magners in 2018 - Shattered Love impressed when taking the G1 JLT Novices' Chase, while The Storyteller captured the G3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.
Henry de Bromhead saddled the latest Irish winner of the Ryanair Chase in 2018 with Balko Des Flos, who triumphed by four and a half lengths under Davy Russell, but has yet to hit top form in three runs so far his season. The trainer has also entered 2018RSA Insurance Novices' Chase runner-up Monalee, 2018 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase third Petit Mouchoir and 2018 Ryanair Chase fourth Sub Lieutenant.
Venetia Williams, who trains in Herefordshire, is hoping Aso can improve on his third behind Un De Sceaux in the 2017 Ryanair Chase.
Now a nine-year-old, Aso has only been lightly-raced since due to injury, but has returned as good as ever this season.
He routed the opposition by 13 lengths in a two and a half-mile handicap chase at Newbury on November 30 and defied top-weight to win the G3 Download The Betbright App Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, taking his rating to a career-high 163.
Williams said: "Aso has come out of his win at Cheltenham in good form.
"The Ryanair Chase is the target. He deserves his place in the race and it was a great performance to finish third in the Ryanair a couple of seasons ago and that is again where we will go.
"He will have possibly have one or even two runs before The Festival. We could take him back to Cheltenham for Festival Trials Day (January 26) or go to Ascot for the G1 Ascot Chase (February 16).
"Aso has now got another string to his bow as by accident, he made much of the running on his last two starts and he did it very well. We used to think he is a horse that needed holding on to, but that is not the case anymore."