Confidence Behind Altior

Fri 9th Feb 2018, 15:59

Altior
©Healy Racing Photos
Nicky Henderson is confident Altior has lost none of his brilliant ability ahead of his long-awaited return in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury.

A dual Cheltenham Festival winner after landing the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy, the eight-year-old is unbeaten in 11 starts over jumps and is a hot favourite to claim glory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Altior has not been seen in competitive action so far this season after a breathing problem was discovered during his preparation for the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.

But that issue was rectified by a wind operation and Henderson reports his charge to be firing on all cylinders on the gallops at Seven Barrows.

He said: "Everything has gone so well in the last three weeks, touch wood

"What is frightening is that he finds his work so easy. He is telling us he is in tremendous form and he is working as well as he ever did. He is just a very good horse."

Henderson had considered heading straight to the Cheltenham Festival with Altior but feels a prep run will give him the best chance of claiming a third victory at the big meeting.

"In the interest of getting him to Cheltenham, I think a race is the best thing for him," the trainer continued.

Altior has long been considered heir apparent to the hugely popular dual Champion Chase hero Sprinter Sacre and Henderson hopes he will enjoy a strong end to the campaign.

He added: "I think Altior has deserved the raise in profile that he has achieved. He is coming quite a long way to filling some very big boots.

"There are a lot of big prizes that have gone by while we've been out of action, which has been very boring, but there are a lot of big prizes still to come.

"Aintree and Sandown are going to be close to each other and you are more than likely only going to get one more run after Cheltenham."

Altior will have to be on his game if he is to make a successful reappearance in a race better known as the Game Spirit, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue a more-than-worthy opponent.

In Altior's absence, the seven-year-old grey has been the star of the two-mile chasing division this season, winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

Owner John Hales said: "Whatever happens on Saturday won't necessarily happen at the Festival because it will be on a different day on a different track and different ground.

"Obviously Altior is a very good horse, he's unbeaten over fences and is a fantastic horse - it will be some race."

With Colin Tizzard's Fox Norton a notable absentee, the three-runner field is completed by the long-absent Valdez.

Alan King's charge is sure to be a huge outsider on what is his first competitive appearance since falling at Chepstow in October 2014.

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THE IRISH TIMES