The list of short-priced favourites beaten during the Christmas programme grew further here on Thursday as Footpad, last year’s Arkle Trophy winner, succumbed to the late challenge of Simply Ned in the feature race. Altior, though, remains seemingly immune to defeat and last year’s Champion Chase winner is now as short as 2-5 for a repeat win at Cheltenham in March after extending his unbeaten record over jumps to 16 races with an effortless success in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park.

A first encounter between Footpad and Altior in this season’s Champion Chase was expected to be the highlight of the Festival after both horses registered impressive wins at the meeting back in March. Subsequent events have not entirely followed the script, however, and while Altior set off at 1-8 and made short work of four opponents, Footpad suffered his second defeat of the season having fallen at the last on his seasonal return at Naas in November.

His fans and backers, though, should not give up just yet, as there was plenty in Footpad’s performance and the comments of Willie Mullins, his trainer, afterwards to suggest that last year’s brilliant novice is still in there somewhere.

From the off until he was sent for home on the run to the last, Footpad travelled like the best horse in the race by some way, and his jumping was far more assured than it had been at Naas. He also put the race to bed with a burst of speed away from the last – or so it appeared, until a lack of full fitness suddenly seemed to tell as the 11-year-old Simply Ned, successful in the same race last year, came charging past in the shadow of the post. It was no surprise to find that Footpad had been backed in-running at 1.01, the shortest possible price, on the Betfair exchange, and it also bears repeating that the winner, though now approaching the veteran stage, is a proven winner at Grade One level with a particular affection for this track and trip.

Mullins said afterwards that Footpad had missed “a week or 10 days or possibly a bit more” after suffering an overreach in his race at Naas and took heart from his six-year-old’s accomplished jumping.

“I wonder, did he just need it?” Mullins said. “He missed a bit of time after his last race and Ruby [Walsh, his jockey] just thought that he might have blown up. If he did, he did, and hopefully he did, because I thought he had the race won going to the last. I thought he was fine coming here, and I was delighted to see that he was back jumping the way he jumped last year. He was almost foot perfect. So we won’t be changing any plans and we’ll keep going down the road we’re going down.”

The Coral Dublin Chase over the same course and distance on 2 February is one possible target for Footpad as Mullins works towards the Festival with a chaser who can now be backed at 10-1 for the Champion Chase.

Altior, meanwhile, is top-priced at 1-2 to win at the Festival for the fourth year in a row, having quickened 19 lengths clear of Diego Du Charmil in the closing stages without ever coming under any pressure from Nico de Boinville, his jockey.

“Out of 10, how can you not give it 10?” Nicky Henderson, Altior’s trainer, said. “If it was Strictly Come Dancing, I think he would have got 10. It is great to watch. Last season was a stop-start affair and we didn’t start until the Game Spirit [at Newbury in February]. It gets scarier every time, but it has been an amazing story.

“We were coming back quickly [after the Tingle Creek Chase in early December] and we are going to try to come back quite quickly for the Clarence House [Chase at Ascot on 19 January]. He is fit and I’ve just got to keep him fresh and well.”

Henderson also suggested that Altior’s owners could “think about” a run in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day next year. “Everybody was trying to nudge us that way [this year],” he added, “but it wasn’t the right thing to do. If we get through this season, see what happens at the end of the year. We talked long and hard about it this year, so we’d think about it.”

Backers cheers Escape on to victory

The money spoke for Elegant Escape throughout the day in the run-up to the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Thursday and the gamble was landed with few alarms, as the 3-1 chance took one of the season’s most demanding and competitive handicap chases by a comfortable length and a quarter.

Elegant Escape, who was a general 5-1 chance on Thursday morning, finished second behind Sizing Tennessee in the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury in November and travelled easily throughout for Tom O’Brien as he tracked a solid pace set by Vieux Lion Rouge and Yala Enki. O’Brien eased him towards the lead in the home straight and though Ramses De Teillee emerged as a threat on the run to the second-last, a mistake there all but delivered the victory to Elegant Escape.

Colin Tizzard, Elegant Escape’s trainer, took the 2016 Welsh National with Native River, who went on to win the Gold Cup last season, and hopes that this year’s winner can make similar progress through the chasing ranks.

“He looked really well in his skin this morning and we actually thought he had as massive a chance as you’re ever going to get,” Tizzard said. “Tom gave him a beautiful ride. He was always in that lovely pocket with two horses in front. We were just hoping they were going to slow up and they did. Someone challenged him at the last, but he’s a thorough stayer and he jumped well today.

“It wasn’t the real old heavy ground at Chepstow we’ve known in the past. It was very similar to when Native River won, just on the soft side. We’ve been very fortunate the last few years, having horses like Cue Card, Native River and Thistlecrack. This boy is not too far behind them now [and] he’s only a six-year-old.”

Lingfield Park 
11.35 Dutch Uncle 12.05 Keep It Country Tv 12.40 Enchanting Man 
1.15 Paddy A 1.45 Let Rip 2.20 Tan (nb) 2.55 Little Miss Kodi 
3.30 Odds On Oli 
12.25 Graceland 1.00 Djarkevi 1.35 Arthur Mac 2.05 Reverse The Charge (nap) 2.40 Notonebuttwo 3.15 Waltz Darling 
12.50 Early Learner 1.25 Bright Forecast 1.55 Copper West 2.30 Amour de Nuit 3.05 Haafapiece 3.40 Cybalko 


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