|Monday 10th February 2020|
Altior on Right Track for Champion Chase After Newbury Victory
Bouncing back after disappointment is one of the hardest things to do in sport. For great winners, the feeling of losing hits hard like an icy gust of winter wind, and that must have been how trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Nico de Boinville felt after Altior suffered the first defeat of his career over hurdles, bringing to an end a run of 19 consecutive wins.
But the greatest winners find a way to win again, and that’s exactly what Altior did in the recent Win Bigger On The Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury. It was a performance that showcased Altior’s greatest strengths, as well as perhaps his slight weakness. A strong start led to something of a flat spot, but a characteristically powerful finish saw him seal victory. It was the kind of display we’ve all become used to seeing from Henderson’s prized Thoroughbred, and while it was far from flawless, it was the perfect antidote to the defeat suffered previously.
Now, as is usually the case following a win at this time of year, attention turns to the Cheltenham Festival, with the latest horse racing betting odds placing Altior among the favourites for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on March 11th. Henderson’s horse is aiming to make it three Champion Chase triumphs on the spin, having won the race in 2019 and 2018, but it will take an almighty performance to achieve that hat-trick of successes.
That is largely due to the strength of competition Altior faces this time around. Both Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi are horses in tremendous form, each on the back of victories in their previous Grade One outings. They are both narrowly ahead of Altior in the odds for the Champion Chase, but perhaps Altior’s experience will give him the edge. It will be the first outing in the Champion Chase for both Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi, and so Henderson and de Boinville will be hoping that the tried-and-tested Altior will trump his wet-behind-the-ears rivals.
Both trainer and jockey have been realistic about Altior’s chances at the Festival, portraying a sense of measure and circumspection that perhaps belies the greater inner confidence both must have in the 10-year-old given his past triumphs.
"We know what we have got to do between now and then [Cheltenham], just keep the ball rolling," said Henderson after the win at Newbury. "He takes plenty of work, he has had a nice race and it has done him the world of good."
De Boinville added: “We have still got more improvement to come. His turn of foot from the last was devastating."
While there is a sense of pragmatism in the words of both men, no-one can deny that Altior’s winning experience makes him a major contender to land the Champion Chase victory once again. Winning is a difficult habit to shake off, and you can bet that defeat to Cyrname will have only heightened Altior’s team’s efforts to make this horse as good as he can be – efforts geared towards building a legacy that will last for years.
A third straight victory in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham would go a long way towards carving out that legacy. The question lies in whether Altior can hold off the stiff competition desperate to have that winning feeling for themselves.