The legendary Altior will bid to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the third year in a row at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Trainer Nicky Henderson took the bold decision to step him up in trip this season with a view to contesting the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. However, his 19-race winning streak came to an end when he lost out to Cyrname at Ascot in November. He did not end up running in the King George and he was also scratched from the Unibet Silviniaco Chase at Kempton on Saturday. Henderson has changed his mind about Altior once again and the 10-year-old will now return to 2 miles in an effort to seize the Champion Chase, one of the most important races at the world-famous Cheltenham Festival for a record-equalling third time.
One Entry to Rule Them All
Henderson was expected to keep his options open for Cheltenham by entering Altior for races over varying distances. However, the trainer wrote a blog post stating that “he will be given one entry at Cheltenham which will be in the Queen Mother Champion Chase”.
He revealed that Altior is feeling the side effects of the antibiotics he was given to treat the abscess on his wither. That sparked the decision to scratch him from the Silviniaco Chase. The plan is now for him to run in the Game Spirit at Newbury in February en route to Cheltenham the following month.
“Altior owes us nothing at all, so our one and only priority is his wellbeing, so it would be unkind to run him if he isn’t at his brilliant best,” said Henderson.
? Waiting for Cheltenham just like Altior pic.twitter.com/aJHPKnec9W
— ODDSbible Racing (@ODDSbibleRacing) January 7, 2020
A Titan of the National Hunt Scene
Altior has certainly proved his worth to Henderson and owner Patricia Pugh over the years. Until November, he was unbeaten over fences, having won all manner of Grade 1 chases along with his dual victories in the Champion Chase.
He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on his first Cheltenham appearance back in 2016 after getting the better of Min. He returned the following year as the 1/4 favorite for the Arkle and fully justified that exalted status by romping to victory.
In 2018, Altior delivered one of his finest performances when he won the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. He had returned from a long injury layoff and he was thrust into an extremely competitive field featuring Politologue and Valdez, but he displayed great courage to come out on top.
Second to Cyrname
He was the even-money favorite for the Champion Chase in 2018, but many fancied Min to turn the tables and consign Altior to defeat. Yet Altior breezed to victory, cementing his status as a legend of the modern era. Last year he went off at just 4/11 to defend his crown and he duly delivered, before extending his winning streak to 19 races at the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown the following month.
The decision to step him up to longer distances always looked like a gamble after his phenomenal success over 2 miles. At the Christy Chase in November, he came up against a 2m 5f specialist in Cyrname, who prevented Altior from taking up his customary position at the front of the field and subjected him to defeat.
Another Big Gamble
Now he will drop back to 2 miles and at the age of 10 that represents another big gamble on Henderson’s behalf. Altior is the 3/1 favorite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the ante-post betting, but he is sure to face a formidable collection of young and hungry chasers.
He may not be able to hold off the likes of Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi this time around, as they have both delivered some eye-catching victories in recent months. Either way, Altior will retire a legend thanks to his sensational spell of dominance over 2 miles between 2016 and 2019, but it would be sad to see him struggling if he is not at his brilliant best.
On the other hand, it would be one of the great sporting stories of the year if he were to rediscover his best form and equal Badworth Boy’s record by seizing a third consecutive Champion Chase.