Altior Returns to Form With Newbury Victory
All eyes were on Altior last weekend as he took the crown in the Game Spirit Chase during Newbury’s Betfair Super Saturday. Taking place just five weeks before The Cheltenham Festival, the meeting is a chance for runners to show what they’re made of before the big day and Altior certainly managed to reaffirm his champion status.
Saturday’s Game Spirit Chase was Altior’s first run since his 19-race winning streak was broken by Cyrname in the Grade 2 Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot back in November. Having already been pulled from two races this year due to suffering from an abscess, racegoers were concerned as to whether the great Altior would be able to return to form. Thankfully, he put up a fighting performance at Newbury, beating rival, Sceau Royal, by a respectable 3 and a quarter lengths and connections were delighted with the outcome.
Trainer Nicky Henderson said of Altior that ‘he hasn’t been anywhere. Ascot was just a mistake all round, but he’s had a lovely time back on his ground. I’m not going to say he was a good horse because he is a good horse and always has been.’
The concern from connections was if the 10-year-old would be able to regain his confidence following a 3-month break. Altior’s owner Patricia Pugh said, following his weekend success, that ‘he was back’. Someone then responded by saying that ‘he’d never been away’. ‘That’s one way of looking at it’ said Pugh ‘but we’re just really happy. He’s enjoyed it and just needed a run to get his confidence.’
Jockey, Nico de Boinville was equally as thrilled with Saturday’s performance; ‘I think we’ve still plenty to work on, but that was a massive confidence booster and he showed a sparkle of his old brilliance. That surge at the end is his trademark and he’s devastating from the last to the line, and he showed what he can do.’
Altior is now on track to become a Cheltenham champion for the fifth year running. More importantly, he will be looking to retain his title in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a title which he has taken for the past two years. He is now the joint favourite along with Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi to take the crown but only time will tell who has what it takes.
Henderson has acknowledged the stiff competition in store for Altior at Cheltenham this year. ‘As it stands, I definitely think this is the best Queen Mother for some years. Altior will have a big fight on his hands in March, and we will be in for a hell of race, so hopefully we can have some nice ground for it’.
It’s promising to see Altior return to his winning ways once again. The victory has given him a strong chance of becoming a Cheltenham champion for a fifth year and we can’t wait to see what the results will be in four weeks’ time.