Altior definitely Champion Chase bound after Newbury victory
Following his second-place behind Cyrname in Ascot’s Christy Chase back in late November, there were questions raised regarding the well-being of previously unbeaten two-mile chaser Altior. Although that race was contested over 2m5f, the Nicky Henderson gelding appeared to lack his usual sparkle and the right to defend his Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham was to be determined by his performance in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury on Saturday.
Altior duly won the race from Sceau Royal but by less than three lengths with observers noticing that the 10-year-old gelding didn’t seem to be travelling too well with two fences remaining. A couple of cracks of the whip from Nico De Boinville seemed to awaken his mount and he eventually won going away.
It was not the best of displays from Altior and there may have been another of those famous ‘flat spots’, but a glance at the form is revealing. Sceau Royal was beaten less than four lengths in last season’s Champion Chase and under three lengths by the Henderson gelding in the Sandown Celebration Chase.
The form appears to be similar on Saturday and it should be remembered that Altior may be more favoured by the more challenging Cheltenham track with Henderson suggesting that two miles may now be his minimum trip.
There is no doubt that dangerous opposition awaits Altior in the 2020 Champion Chase with Defi Du Seuil still favoured by the bookmakers and Chacun Pour Soi and A Plus Tard among a strong Irish challenge. However, the reigning champion is a multiple course and distance winner and Saturday’s contest was a first race since that demanding duel with Cyrname.
Altior may now have also fully recovered from the abscess which troubled him earlier in the season, and there is a real possibility that he could improve still further from that Newbury victory.