Henderson sticking to Newbury plan despite possible rescheduling

Nicky Henderson has confirmed Altior and Champ will take up their respective engagements at Newbury – even if Saturday’s high-profile card is rescheduled for the following weekend.

The Berkshire track’s Betfair Super Saturday fixture is already in serious doubt following several days of sub-zero temperatures, with an inspection called for 8.30am on Friday.

Discussions have been taking place about the possibility of the entire card being switched to a later date, and it is believed that a Sunday slot on February 21 is the favoured option.

Henderson said earlier this week he would “desperately request” that both the Betfair Denman Chase and the Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Chase – better known as the Game Spirit – were saved, to give Champ and Altior the opportunity to run ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.

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And speaking on Thursday morning, the Seven Barrows handler gave his backing to restaging the meeting, which also includes the lucrative Betfair Hurdle, should it be on Sunday week.

Henderson said: “It’s fine by me. It’s the plan to run both Altior and Champ – they’ve got to have runs.

“We’re discussing everything with owners and things and it’s frustrating, but really nothing changes.

“I need to talk to Patricia Pugh about Altior and JP (McManus) about Champ, obviously. (But) if they send the whole card there (February 21), then we’ll be there.

“It’s amazing really that he (Keith Ottesen, clerk of the course at Newbury) says he doesn’t expect the ground to be that bad, which would help, as we wouldn’t want it very soft with that timing.

“I must say it will be a great effort on behalf of Newbury, the British Horseracing Authority, the sponsors and ITV should it all come off.”

Champ after winning at Cheltenham last March
Champ after winning at Cheltenham last March (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He added: “The horses were all geared up for this weekend and we’re just going to have to explain to them that Henderson has got his dates wrong!

“It will be a big effort from everybody involved and we’re very grateful.”

Having suffered just his second defeat over obstacles when beaten by Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on his latest appearance, Altior will head to Newbury aiming to prove he still has what it takes to land a third Queen Mother Champion Chase next month.

Champ, meanwhile, will be looking to confirm himself a legitimate Cheltenham Gold Cup contender in the Denman Chase, having been off the track since his last-gasp victory in the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival.

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