As attention turned to Cheltenham, Jump racing fans were rocked yesterday with the news that Altior will miss most of the season due to a breathing issue.
Nicky Henderson dropped the bomb, saying: “I'm really disappointed to report that Altior will miss the Grade One Tingle Creek at Sandown next month due to a wind problem that has surfaced, which means he will not be ready in time. He started faster work last week in the build-up to Sandown and did an excellent piece with Lough Derg Spirit last Tuesday. However, he made a whistling noise on Saturday, so we did an overland scope yesterday, which is basically galloping while being scoped.
“Between our own vet Dave Matterson and Geoff Lane they both concluded that he has a small issue with his wind whereby his larynx isn't opening sufficiently. After discussing the matter with his owners, Christopher and Pat Pugh, we decided that he will need a small procedure to rectify the problem.”
The trainer is hoping that his equine goliath will return in the Spring, in time for a tilt at the Champion Chase. Sprinter Sacre and Might Bite have had the same procedure in the past, to correct slight breathing problems. Altior’s return to the track looks assured, though the timing remains uncertain. Let’s hope he makes the end of season festivals, and again shows us what a fabulous racehorse he is.
With Defi du Seuil’s withdrawal from Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle, it is a Henderson inmate that’s taken over at the head of the market. It’s hard to believe that a trainer so dominant in the Champion Hurdle has yet to capture this prestigious event. Jenkins is fancied by many to put that record straight. The form of his win at Newbury last November is strong, though Henderson maintains the youngster is badly handicapped.
He spoke earlier in the week, insisting: “He is handicapped on his reputation as a bumper horse, not on what he’s achieved. He was awful that day when he beat Bags Groove. He couldn’t jump a hurdle. Then he fell into one at Ffos Las in the most appalling race you’ve ever seen and somehow ended up on 137.”
Despite his handicap mark, Henderson does believe the horse is in good shape, adding: “He wants to jump this year and wants to work. If he is back to what he was as a bumper horse, he will be very good.”
The Dan Skelton-trained North Hill Harvey took the Greatwood 12 months ago, and the stable had the runner-up, Superb Story, in 2015. Mohaayed is their representative this time, and he has been well supported in the markets. He has a winning profile and the trainer insists that he’s suited to better ground. Speaking last month, Skelton was clearly targeting this race with the five-year-old, saying: “We will run him fresh in the Greatwood Hurdle. He’s off a nice mark. We will plan his season from there. He’s got his experience and jumps nicely.”
The feature race on Saturday is the BetVictor Gold Cup, a race that Paul Nicholls has won twice in the past five years. The Ditcheat handler has a pair of strong contenders, and said of them: “This is the ideal race to run him (Romain De Senam) in, as he needs a real fast-run race, which he will get at Cheltenham, and he is in good shape.” The five-year-old has improved for a step-up in trip this term, though his handicap mark has suffered as a consequence.
Of his other entry, Nicholls said: “Le Prezien is in good order. He is rated 150 which is quite high. He is an improving game young horse that gets the trip, so he must have a chance.” He was a close second at Cheltenham in October, when beaten by Foxtail Hill over two miles. It would come as no surprise to see both go close again, with this two-and-a-half mile trip likely to suit the pair.
Colin Tizzard will be looking forward to the meeting, with Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar expected to go well. Both run under the familiar colours of Alan Potts, who very sadly died earlier in the week. Alan’s death comes just three months after the passing of his wife Ann, and yesterday the family confirmed that horses under the ownership will run as planned. Speaking at Exeter yesterday, Joe Tizzard said: “We’ll certainly be running them because they’ve been planned out for this weekend. Alan was due to come to our place Thursday night and see the yard, then go to Cheltenham. It’s a real shock that he’s no longer with us.”
Potts’s daughter Julie is known to have shared her parent’s love of racing, though whether she’ll be at Cheltenham is unknown. Bryan Cooper will continue as main jockey for the English-based horses. “That’s how Alan wanted it, so it’ll stay like that,” Tizzard Jr said.