Altior to wear cheekpieces in Champion Chase

Altior will sport first-time cheekpieces as he bids to regain his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase title at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The 11-year-old secured the second of his back-to-back victories in the two-mile showpiece in 2019, but has endured mixed fortunes subsequently – losing his unbeaten record over obstacles when stepped up in distance in November of that year, before his Festival run last spring was scuppered by injury.

Altior returned to action over Christmas with a second place at Kempton, and trainer Nicky Henderson felt his jumping that day was not quite up to scratch – hence the application of headgear when he lines up at Prestbury Park on Wednesday.

Henderson told Unibet: “It did occur to us that his jumping, in particular at Kempton, wasn’t as deadly as it should be. If you see him here schooling, you won’t see anything faster or quicker.

“We are going to put some cheekpieces on him. It is something that we have discussed for a long time over the last few weeks since Kempton.

“The race is going to be fast and furious, (so) he has got to be just that little bit sharper.

“I think they will help particularly over the first three fences, which they will go quick (at), and he has got to be there with them. He also sometimes has a little bit of a flat spot, two or three furlongs out.

“We did some work with him the other day, and (jockey) Nico (de Boinville)felt it made a nice difference, so that is what we are going to do. If he can get some decent ground, and the cheekpieces do their bit, he is in good form.”

Henderson also plans to furnish Santini with headgear in Friday’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup, as he tries to improve on last year’s close second to Al Boum Photo.

The trainer wrote on Twitter: “Santini schooled with some headgear on yesterday, and I can confirm he will wear a visor in the Gold Cup.”

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