Nicky Henderson is confident Altior’s brilliant ability remains fully intact as he prepares for his return to action in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase.
The son of High Chaparral beat the popular Un De Sceaux in Saturday’s Grade One contest two years ago, before going on to successfully defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and win a third Celebration Chase at Sandown to cap another flawless campaign.
Last season was not so smooth, however, with Altior suffering a first defeat in 20 starts over jumps at the hands of Cyrname in an attritional affair at Ascot – which put paid to ambitions of a step up to three miles for the King George VI Chase.
Henderson’s superstar chaser got back on the winning trail at Newbury in February – and while a late setback ruled out a Champion Chase hat-trick bid, the 10-year-old has since demonstrated to his trainer that he is back firing on all cylinders for his reappearance.
“He schooled last week and he was electric,” said Henderson.
“If you put a fence in front of him he’s away, so we’re hopeful he’s back.
“He was in very good form the week before Cheltenham, and he got a splint, so there was no way he’d get to Cheltenham. We were hoping he’d come back for something later in the season, which obviously never happened.
“I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be as good as ever this season.”
While Altior was beaten on his only start beyond an extended two miles, Henderson has not completely dismissed the idea of testing Altior’s stamina again over longer distances at some stage – but a third Champion Chase is top of his wish-list.
He added on a call hosted by Great British Racing: “I wouldn’t rule out trying him over two and a half miles again.
“Where we went wrong last year was two-five, heavy ground and first time out (at Ascot) – he wasn’t beaten far, but he was very, very tired.
“Two and a half miles at Aintree might be an option, should Cheltenham go the right way. We haven’t done it before, but it certainly wouldn’t worry me.
“He’s the best two miler in recent years – the best since Sprinter Sacre, who got his crown back.
“Altior didn’t lose his crown because he was sub-par. In March we were very happy with where we were and looking forward to the Champion Chase – it was just unfortunate timing to pick up a splint.
“He’ll be 11 come the Festival, and we’ll be looking to win there for a fifth time, but he is capable.”
Paul Nicholls fires a twin assault in a bid to add to his record haul of 10 Tingle Creek successes – with 2017 winner Politologue, who landed the Champion Chase when last seen, joined by recent Haldon Gold Cup hero Greaneteen.
Politologue carries the colours of John Hales, who said: “I’m sure he’ll give his best, as he always does.
“It’s a good field. Politologue is in good condition, and I think you’ll find that he’s been well prepared for the race – there’ll be no excuses if we don’t win.
“He obviously won the race a few years ago, and bled in the race last year, but Paul devised a new way of training him after that – which paid off at the Festival.”
Nicholls told Betfair: “Greaneteen won the Haldon Gold Cup in determined style at Exeter, staying on stoutly. Although he has earned a crack at this Grade One and has come on bundles since Exeter, he does need to improve – because Politologue is rated 10lb higher than him.
“Greaneteen is what I call a strong-staying two miler, which is what you want for a race like this, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him right in the mix.
“We know Politologue is best fresh – he looks stunning, has had an away day and couldn’t be in better shape.
“The more it rains at Sandown, the more it will suit him.”
Harry Whittington is still intending to step Rouge Vif up in class, after he impressed in handicap company at Cheltenham in October, but will check on ground conditions before confirming his participation.
He said: “I’m just hoping there’s some good to soft in the going description – if there’s more rain and it turns soft, then I think we’ll probably be a non-runner.
“He’s in great form, and his preparation has gone very well. He was ready to run in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month, and we pulled him out of that because of the soft ground.
“If we do run, hopefully he’ll run a big race. It’s very tough, but he’s earned his right to have a go – and hopefully he can show he can mix it with the big boys.”
A six-strong field is completed by Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm and Pat Fahy’s Irish challenger Castlegrace Paddy, who won the Fortria Chase at Navan last month.
Fahy said: “Everything has gone well since Navan. I couldn’t be happier with the horse – I’ve never seen him as well in himself.
“He’s an outsider, which is great – that’s the way I always triumph. As long as the horse is well, that’s all you need to worry about.
“It’s going to be an enjoyable day for us. He’s entitled to go, and we’re looking forward to it.”