After missing the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown earlier this month, trainer Nicky Henderson has now announced that two-time winning Champion Chaser, Altior, will also miss the Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham. Instead, all eyes turn to day two of the Kempton Christmas Festival, and a second possible success at the Desert Orchid Chase instead.
Altior was, of course, the favourite two years ago, going into the race on December 27th, and went on to triumph, 19 lengths ahead of Diego Du Charmil. Despite a break that hasn’t seen the gelding race since February – when he returned to winning ways in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury – the 10-year-old remains highly-fancied in the latest horse racing betting odds.
On missing out at Sandown, Henderson cited the going, the reason for Altior’s absence. The night before the race, the trainer had said: “It is with a heavy heart we have decided that Altior is not going to run. We simply don’t want to bottom him again given what happened last year [at Ascot].”
The race he was alluding to, was the 1965 Chase, in which, Altior’s unbeaten record came to an end. Suffering a shock defeat over jumps at the hands of Cyrname, it ended a 20-race winning streak, that went back as far as October 2015. That day too, the ground was soft, and Henderson was right to be concerned about the ground at Sandown – which he described as a “bottomless glue pit”.
He also went on, to reference the gelding’s age: “Altior is an older horse now. You have to remember that. After Ascot last year, I just about got him back in time for the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. That was two and a half months which it took me to get him back. He puts an awful lot into it.”
There had been talk that Altior would enter into the Peterborough Chase, had it been raced at Taunton. The Huntingdon race has been run at other courses over the last decade or so, due to snow and ice affecting conditions – and Taunton was the chosen venue in 2017, the last time it was moved. Due to flooding at Huntingdon, the race was forced to be rescheduled – and Cheltenham was named course of choice this year.
Despite there being no entry for Altior, Henderson will have his hopes on success in the Chase – with Top Notch and Mister Fisher among the favourites. The former will look to make history in the Grade 2 race, and complete a rare hat-trick. Victory for the gelding will see him achieve the unusual feat of winning the same race three times, but at three different racecourses.
After this weekend, all eyes will turn to Kempton’s Christmas Festival, and whether or not Altior can regain his crown. The 10-year-old was a notable absentee last year, when he was sadly omitted due to an abscess – and the five-field race was won by Bun Doran.
Henderson is already the leading trainer when it comes to the Desert Orchid Chase, with four wins (2009, 2011, 2015 and 2018), but Nico de Boinville in the saddle will look to replicate legendary jockey, Barry Geraghty’s achievement of three wins in the Grade 2 race – having also won in 2015, when riding Sprinter Sacre.