Nicky Henderson has confirmed Altior on course to run in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
The Seven Barrows handler withdrew the dual Queen Mother Champion Chase from the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown at the 11th hour earlier this month, as he felt the ground was too testing with the rest of the season in mind.
He had to defend his decision at the time and reinforced his conviction when pointing Altior to Kempton on December 27.
“He’s been great and we’ve been delighted the way things are going,” Henderson said.
“Everybody has been saying ‘are you’re going to run him on soft ground at Kempton?’.
“Kempton soft ground and Sandown soft ground are two different things altogether. There are lots of different types of soft. This is about getting a clear run and lots of things can go wrong.
“Last year he got a splint three or four days before Cheltenham. Anything can happen, anything can jump out and bite you at the last minute.”
Henderson reports Altior to be in tip-top shape for his first race since he took the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February.
He told Unibet: “We put a little clip of him schooling out the other day. Nico (de Boinville) sets off and I shut my eyes, it is terrifying. He is just so quick and fast, and he just comes up miles away. Very few horses have got the scope to do what he can do.
“It’s terrifying because he’s just so quick and fast. And just comes up miles away. Very few horses have got the scope to do what he does.”
Shishkin is already been hailed as a potential successor to Altior and he took could go to Kempton for the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase on the same card.
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner made a successful debut over fences at the Sunbury Park track last month.
“You could not do anything other than give him 10 out of 10 for his first run over fences at Kempton,” said Henderson.
“I do not think he had a whole heap to beat. Not surprisingly, he jumped to the front after about three fences and it was a solo spin. It is going to be a different ball game up against talented opposition, but he has won a Supreme Hurdle under some extraordinary circumstances.
“He is a very talented horse and his jumping at Kempton was exemplary. We thought we would go back to Kempton for the Wayward Lad and then he would have one more run (before the Cheltenham Festival) in the Kingmaker or something like that.
“Him and Altior both won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and they both started their chasing careers with bloodless victories at Kempton, in the same race.
“It is possible that he could be another very high-class two-miler. If that is the case we are very lucky, because we had Sprinter Sacre and then Altior to take over. You would be lucky to see one horse as good as those two, if there is a third one then we are desperately lucky.”
Epatante is to have her last run before her defence of her Cheltenham crown in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.
The six-year-old mare, owned by JP McManus took the Kempton Grade One on her way to winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle in March.
She has already shown her well-being this term when lifting the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
“You are always nervous ahead of their seasonal reappearance. It (Fighting Fifth Hurdle) was a mess of a race, but Sceau Royal is a good marker,” said Henderson.
“Daryl (Jacob, rider of Sceau Royal) said he couldn’t believe a horse could go past him going that fast, because he wasn’t stopping.
“Aidan (Coleman) gave her a beautiful ride, but there is a button and you just pray it is going to work every time you press it. She is extraordinary, that change of gear is electric.
“She goes along as if she is doing nothing, she is so slick. The way she crosses a hurdle is a bit scary. It’s a bit like Buveur D’Air, it is A to B like an arrow. It is just so economic.
“She will go straight to the Unibet Champion Hurdle (after the Christmas Hurdle). As it worked last year, I see no reason why not to put her away until Cheltenham.”
Henderson also intends to run Floressa, with her owners keen to take the plunge.
The five-year-old mate won the race formerly known as the Gerry Fielden at Newbury as Epatante had done 12 months earlier.
“The team that owns Floressa, being an exuberant bunch, have managed to persuade me to run her in the Christmas Hurdle,” he said.
“I said she wants two and a half miles and running in the Gerry Fielden was stupid, I thought Marie’s Rock would win that and they were mad.
“Now they are crowing and they have got their programme book, and I haven’t got mine any more, it is totally up to them.
“Even they know Floressa isn’t going to win the Christmas Hurdle, but there is Grade One black type in there for placed horses, so it could be a very valuable asset to her CV.”