Altior ready to prove himself again as Henderson aims for hat-trick in Newbury's Betfair Exchange Chase
Altior, one of the superstars of jump racing, is ready to pick up the winning habit again at Newbury on Saturday (February 8) when he will bid for his third success in the Grade 2 Win Bigger On The Betfair Exchange Chase.
The reigning champion chaser reverts to two miles for his first start since suffering the only defeat over jumps of his career in a head-to-head with Cyrname at Ascot in November, run over two miles five furlongs. Trainer Nicky Henderson is confident he can prove himself again.
Altior heads ten entries for the £50,000 prize, a race he won in 2017 and 2018, and which also includes Sceau Royal and Kalashnikov plus Dynamite Dollars, who has been off the track since January last year.
Altior, winner of 19 out of 20 starts over jumps, was beaten two and a quarter lengths when connections took up the challenge of a clash with Cyrname, the highest rated British jumper in training, over a new distance in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot.
He has not raced since after a possible start at Ascot in January was scrapped when Altior was found to have a minor abscess on his wither, which has now cleared up.
Henderson spoke during a media morning at his Lambourn stables to promote Betfair Super Saturday at Newbury: “Altior schooled last week. You might have seen the film. You would seriously wonder why in the world we would want to go further than two miles."
"No horse in England would keep up with what he was going the other day, not one. Blink and you would have missed it, but that’s him. He works as well as ever.”
The trainer admitted that the race at Ascot over five furlongs further than his regular trip on testing ground had been the wrong option for a seasonal comeback: “I just think Ascot didn’t help either horse at the end of the day. The problem was it was the first run of the year."
“Paul [Nicholls] might disagree with me totally, but his horse didn’t run his race in the King George and we took a long time to get over it. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have run, but you are then leaving the race as a walkover."
"What would the racing public say about that? You should say the horse comes first, unfortunately we did it the other way round and paid the penalty."
“We said we would have a go at a longer distance, but what we did was leave all the other races like the Clarence House Chase going begging. It was the wrong thing to do, but there was a lot of pressure put on us, saying ‘Come on, do something different. If you say he is a champion, prove he can stay. Otherwise he is just a boring two mile chaser'. So he’s a boring two mile chaser.”
“Altior has to prove himself again and I think he can. He’s been beaten once in a two mile five race in a bog when he wasn’t half ready for it. That doesn’t mean he’s old. He got beaten. It was going to happen and that was the day. He had a very hard race and he was very tired."
“It wasn’t stamina because he didn’t finish any further behind the winner than he was two out. He wasn’t straight enough and the ground was horrible. It’s going to be a decent race on Saturday. There are ten in there so they’re not frightened of him.”
Henderson will use the Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase to try to bring about a revival in Might Bite, the 2017 King George VI Chase winner who has not completed his last three starts.
It will mean another meeting with old rival Native River, who defeated Might Bite in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018 when he also won the Betfair Denman Chase for the second time.
“It’s all about getting him back,” said Henderson. “We’ve been doing different things with Might Bite and he seems in good form. I haven’t galloped him but he’s been doing lots of schooling and jumping, having fun. It will mean another clash with Native River but I’ve got no pretensions.
“People can say we ought to retire him but I can quote you two horses that everyone wanted to retire that have come back, Sprinter Sacre and Faugheen.”
Photos courtesy Newbury Racecourse.