It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride for Altior during the past couple of months. The Cheltenham champion’s 19 race winning streak was shattered at Ascot back in November and he missed out on running in both the Silviniaco Conti and Clarence House Chase in January after recovering from an abscess. After a three-month break, racegoers have been keen to witness a bit of Altior magic on the racecourse once again and it seems that Newbury will be his next chance to make a comeback.
Trainer, Nicky Henderson, confirmed that it is his intention for Altior to run in this year’s Cheltenham Festival in a bid to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase title, which he has won the past two years running. In preparation for Ladies Day, Henderson has revealed that Altior is all set to run in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury this Saturday. A race which he has won twice previously, connections are hoping that he will be able to take the crown once again.
This will be a significant race for Altior as it will be his first since the defeat at the hands of Cyrname in the Grade 2 Christy 1965 Chase. Henderson has since revealed that he regrets ever entering the race and under normal circumstances wouldn’t have let him run. ‘You are then leaving the race as a walkover. What would the racing public say about that? You should say the horse comes first, unfortunately we did it the other way round and paid the penalty.’ He recently mentioned that he felt under pressure to try something new with Altior to prevent him from being known as a ‘boring two-mile chaser’. With him already being pulled from two races so far this year, it seems that a lesson may have been learned.
The question now is whether the setback at Ascot has left any lasting impact on 10-year-old Altior. Henderson has stated that he is still working as well as ever. ‘Altior schooled last week and you would seriously wonder why in the world we would want to go further than two miles. No horse in England would keep up with what he was going the other day, not one. Blink and you would have missed it but that’s him.’
Now Altior has experienced defeat, he needs to make sure that he puts himself back on track in order to restore his leading two-miler status. ‘He has got to prove himself again, and I think he can. He has only been beaten once, in a two-mile-five race in a bog when he was only half-ready for it. It doesn’t mean he is old – he got beaten and it was going to happen and that was the day it was going to happen.’
Despite the setback, Henderson has not ruled out the possibility of Altior running further distances in the future. Aintree has been considered as a possibility but seems unlikely this year. It all depends on how quickly Altior is able to recover from Cheltenham.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Altior performs after his time off. Here’s hoping that Saturday will be the day that he puts himself back on the road to victory and gears up for another Cheltenham Festival win!
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