Nicky Henderson has confirmed Altior will sidestep next Sunday’s rescheduled fixture at Newbury and head straight for the Cheltenham Festival, while stablemate Champ is set for a surprise outing in the Betfair Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Game Spirit Chase.
The Seven Barrows handler had intended to let Altior bid for a fourth victory in the Game Spirit ahead of aiming to wrestle back his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase next month, while Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Champ was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Betfair Denman Chase on the same card.
However, with the cold snap causing the entire meeting to be pushed back eight days, Henderson has revised running plans.
In a statement posted on his Twitter feed on Sunday, he said: “First of all I would like to congratulate Newbury, the sponsors, the BHA and ITV for rearranging yesterday’s Super Saturday card.
“They have done a fantastic job under difficult circumstances and we are keen to support the meeting as best as we can, so with that in mind, the intention is still for Buzz, Mister Coffey and now possibly Fred as well to take their chance in the Betfair Hurdle.
“With regards to Altior and Champ, under the current circumstances and having discussed the situation in detail with all connections involved, we have come to the conclusion that Altior will head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without a run beforehand.
“He is in excellent form, but he does tend to take his races quite hard and we have therefore decided to continue his preparation at home and almost certainly an away-day at some stage in the next 10 days.”
Champ will be taking a sizeable drop in trip to an extended two miles in the Game Spirit, but Henderson feels it is the correct call with a tilt at Gold Cup glory in mind.
He added: “We have to decided to change things around with Champ, very much for the same reason and our close proximity to the Festival.
“He will now drop back down to two miles and contest the Game Spirit, instead of the Denman Chase.
“He hasn’t run for a year, so we could be in danger that three miles may be slightly too far for his first run of the season. He is a fresh horse and can be quite free in his races, so it would be harder to curtail enthusiasm and you’re never going to take as much out over two miles as you are over three.
“He could be keen and do too much, so in the interest of the Gold Cup being his ultimate goal, it is preferable to run over a shorter distance, which could stop him having a harder race than necessary and also help eliminate the risk of the bounce factor.
“He was a very useful horse over two and two and a half miles last season and I think that the Game Spirit could suit him well, both in the short term and the long term.”