In-form Venetia Williams says a change in tactics has given Aso a live chance of an upset in the Ryanair Chase.
Aso finished less than eight lengths third behind Un De Sceaux in the Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 two seasons ago and has won both starts since a year-long absence and a switch to front-running.
The nine-year-old is a top-priced 25-1 for the Ryanair Chase on March 14 and Williams, who has saddled 12 winners from her last 28 runners, said: “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 was a horse who needed holding on to, but that is not the case anymore.”
Aso led throughout to win a handicap chase by 13 lengths at Newbury on his return and hit the front with a circuit to travel for a two-length success at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, again under Charlie Deutsch.
Williams said: “The Ryanair Chase is the target. He deserves his place in the race. It was a great performance to finish third in the Ryanair a couple of seasons ago and that is where we’ll go again.
“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 Ascot Chase [February 16].”
Min, one of 13 entries for Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins, finished runner-up to Altior in both the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and 2018 Champion Chase and is likely to sidestep another duel with him and head for the Ryanair.
Paul Nicholls, who enjoyed plenty of Christmas cheer in December, has entered 2017 Tingle Creek scorer Politologue in both the Champion Chase and the Ryanair, while Caspian Caviar Gold Cup victor Frodon is also a likely contender in the latter.
Unsurprisingly, there is a particularly powerful Irish contingent in the Ryanair Chase, with the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Balko Des Flos aiming for back-to-back wins, and Petit Mouchoir and Road To Respect, who also represent the sponsors, also engaged.
Waiting Patiently, an excellent winner of the Ascot Chase in 2018, bids to add a second Grade 1 to his name after being brought down in the King George VI Chase in December. The eight-year-old is a best-priced 7-1 for the 2m41/2f contest.
Simon Munir and Isaac Souede hold several chances, including with Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase winners Top Notch and Terrefort.
Altior, unbeaten in 16 starts over hurdles and fences, heads the entries for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The Nicky Henderson-trained superstar, a seven-length winner of last season’s renewal, will bid to emulate former stablemate and chasing legend Sprinter Sacre in winning the 2m championship race for a second time.
If the nine-year-old managed to win an eighth Grade 1, the win would bring Henderson’s tally in the race to six, which would equal the record of the late Tom Dreaper.
Among Altior’s possible rivals are the Willie Mullins-trained quartet of Footpad, Great Field, Min and Un De Sceaux. Footpad, winner of the Racing Post Arkle last season, has yet to fire in two outings this term, but is a general 8-1 second favourite.
Special Tiara produced a shock in the 2017 Champion Chase when beating Fox Norton by a neck and the pair could clash once again.
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