Nicky Henderson remains optimistic Altior will put up a bold bid for a third Queen Mother Champion Chase success at the Cheltenham Festival, having noticed a positive change in his stable star’s demeanour since his surprise defeat at Kempton last month.
The superstar chaser claimed the two-mile crown in both 2018 and 2019, but was unable to bid for the hat-trick last March after suffering a setback in the latter stages of his preparation.
He was beaten for just the second time in 17 starts over fences when making his belated reappearance in the Desert Orchid Chase over the festive period, with a lethargic display seeing him finish second behind Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra.
Altior has this year been given an alternative Festival engagement in the longer Ryanair Chase, but Henderson believes his charge can become only the second horse to win a third Queen Mother after Badsworth Boy in the 1980s.
“There’s lots of conjecture about whether he’ll run in the Champion Chase or the Ryanair, but unless something categorically comes up and says this horse wants two and a half (miles), I’m expecting to run him in the Champion Chase,” he told Sky Sports Racing.
“Nico (de Boinville) is very keen to go two and a half, but I do think – and maybe I’m in dreamland – that there is something about him just at the moment that is different to how he was before Christmas.
“He’s gone back to doing all his work with his head on the floor. He always used to do that and it was noticeable earlier in the year that he was carrying it much higher, like a normal horse.
“Now he’s gone back to tanking along with his head down and I’m very pleased to see him like that.
“He’ll always go through that spot in a race where you think ‘are you going all right’, but he soon answers the question – and I don’t think he’s lost that.”