Nicky Henderson reports Altior firmly on course to make his belated return in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.
The dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier this month, but was withdrawn the night before on account of the prevailing testing conditions.
While the decision drew criticism from some quarters, Henderson is happy it was the right call, with the Seven Barrows handler still scarred by Altior’s only defeat over jumps to date when beaten by Cyrname in testing ground at Ascot last season.
Speaking on a zoom call before Kempton’s Ladbrokes Christmas Festival this weekend, Henderson said: “As I said on the day, I know it was disappointing for the people that didn’t see him at Sandown, but we hoped it would be good for the people who would be able to see him at Kempton
“Sadly, that is now not the case (because of coronavirus restrictions) – which is sad, because Altior does like a crowd.
“He’s only been beaten once, and it’s something I’ll regret for the rest of my life. The Cyrname race did a lot of damage, and I couldn’t face that happening again.
“We did what we thought was right, and I don’t regret it. It will be soft at Kempton, but Sandown soft and Kempton soft are two different things, and I have no worries about the ground – he will run.
“We’ll be happy to be at Kempton, and it’s fingers crossed. ”
Altior, successful in Sunday’s Grade Two two years ago, is one of 10 entries this time – with Henry de Bromhead’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On, last year’s winner Bun Doran and Sceau Royal some of his possible rivals.
It promises to be a big day for the Henderson team, with last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Shishkin bidding to make it two from two over fences in the Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase.
The six-year-old made a faultless start to his chasing career at the Sunbury venue last month, but his trainer expects him to face a sterner test on his return.
“Kempton is a lovely track to start with. He went round virtually on his own, and you’d prefer him to have some company,” Henderson added.
“I’m sure he’ll have some competition in the Wayward Lad, and he’ll have to be as good as we hope he is.”
Henderson has also entered Elusive Belle, while De Bromhead could send Benruben from Ireland.
Gumball (Philip Hobbs), Quick Grabim (Fergal O’Brien) and Tamaroc Du Mathan (Paul Nicholls) are the other hopefuls.