Altior is firmly on course for next month’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase after satisfying trainer Nicky Henderson in his Newbury gallop.
The 10-year-old is on something of a retrieval mission this term after relinquishing his unbeaten record over obstacles when beaten by Cyrname at Ascot last November, and then taking time to recover from those exertions before returning with victory in the Game Spirit Chase in February.
A splint issue derailed Altior’s Queen Mother Champion Chase defence at Cheltenham in March, but Henderson believes the brilliant two-miler is now back to his best.
Altior worked with Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante on Tuesday morning – and while Nico de Boinville’s mount came off second best at the end of the gallop, Henderson described his role as that of a “pacemaker” for his fellow stable star.
He said: “He is good and is heading for the Tingle Creek. He loves his jumping. If you would have seen him on Thursday, it was terrifying. He just jumped fences.
“He looked quite dreamy out there today, but I had to use him as a pacemaker. He enjoyed himself, but he is better aiming at something. He is miles better when he is aiming at a fence.
“When you see him schooling, it’s frightening and you think you should be aiming at the King’s Stand not the Tingle Creek, he is so quick. Nico might enjoy it, but I certainly don’t. He is just brilliant, and that lights his fire.”
Henderson has made no secret of his regret at running Altior in the 1965 Chase last term, with testing conditions and the step up to two miles and five furlongs taking its toll when tackling Cyrname – who is the highest-rated jumper in training.
The Seven Barrows handler added: “The start of last season was a complete disaster, and I’ve said ever since we shouldn’t have run. The ground was diabolical – and you didn’t need that head-to-head, with both having their first run of the season.
“You would have had a prep race first, and we hadn’t had a racecourse gallop, and it bottomed him.”
Altior was one of 14 confirmed entries on Tuesday afternoon for the Tingle Creek Chase, a race he won in 2018.
Paul Nicholls, who is the most successful trainer in Tingle Creek history, has four contenders in 2017 victor Politologue – who landed last season’s Champion Chase – Haldon Gold Cup winner Greaneteen, Magic Saint and Duc Des Genievres.
Last year’s Tingle Creek winner Defi Du Seuil, Rouge Vif and Waiting Patiently also feature.
Last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Santini was also in action at Newbury, working with Ladbrokes Trophy entry Beware The Bear.
De Boinville was seemingly hard at work aboard the eight-year-old in his spin, but Henderson was unconcerned as he reports Santini to be another who shines when presented with an obstacle, rather than working on the level.
He said: “He had an entry in the Betfair Chase. When he came in, that is what we were aiming at.
“But I never really thought that was his sort of track, and I don’t think Kempton is either – which makes life quite difficult because he is a horse that wants a big, galloping track and he wants some fences to light him up.
“If you saw him schooling the other morning, he was electric, but he doesn’t do an awful lot in between.”
Henderson is still planning to head to Aintree next month with Santini, before a possible defence of his Cotswold Chase crown in January and then the Denman Chase in February.
The trainer added: “The Many Clouds is where I think we will aim for first, as there really is no three-mile galloping track for him. If he went to the Many Clouds, you have then got the Cotswold Chase and the Denman back here.”