The Betfair Tingle Creek takes centre stage at Sandown this Saturday and without question the headline act is Altior. Kevin Blake assesses his chances...
"His presence at the head of the betting makes this a difficult contest to have a strong view on, but he is unlikely to need to be at his very best to make a winning return to action."
Nicky Henderson's charge has been one of the brightest stars in the sport since winning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016. While he has only met with defeat on one occasion since then, the road hasn't always been as smooth as that record would suggest.
For Altior, the bumps in the road have been internal ones rather than external ones. Two separate breathing surgeries have been deemed necessary in recent years and two of his last three seasons have been restricted to just three starts for various reasons. However, despite those issues, he has kept coming back and producing the goods.
A season of lows and one high
When he met with his first defeat over fences in what was a gut-busting renewal of the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot a year ago, many feared that it could be indicative of the start of his decline. Yet, having been freshened up by Henderson, he showed that there was still plenty of fire in his belly when winning the Win Bigger On The Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury in February.
That set the scene for what was set to be the most exciting renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase for many years, with Altior set to face down the challenge of the young pretenders to his throne in Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil. Unfortunately, in what must surely rate as one of the more deflating examples of a race falling apart at the eleventh hour, both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi had to be withdrawn due to late setbacks.
It wasn't just a nightmare scenario for the race, it was also a real pity that Altior was denied his chance to become a three-time winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase and a five-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival.
Age catching up or is it just a number
With previous thoughts of stepping Altior up to three miles seeming to be abandoned, this Saturday will give us our first look at the 2020/21 version of Altior. The key question he will seek to answer is whether he retains enough ability to still be a leading player in the two-mile chase division as he approaches his 11th birthday.
Moscow Flyer won his second Champion Chase as an 11-year-old, but one has to go back to Skymas in the 1970's to find the only other horse of such an age to win the race. Incidentally, Skymas won it again the following year at the age of 12.
Conditions will certainly be in his favour and Nicky Henderson has been making bullish noises about Altior for a number of weeks now. His presence at the head of the betting makes this a difficult contest to have a strong view on, but he is unlikely to need to be at his very best to make a winning return to action.
That said, as well as his old rival Politologue, he will be faced down by two young, race-fit new rivals in the shape of the Paul Nicholls-trained Greanteen and the Harry Whittington-trained Rouge Vif.
Both have impressed in their climb up the ranks, but this represents a significant step up in class for both of them. For me, it is a slight surprise to see Rouge Vif not far off double the price of Greanteen and at those prices, marginal preference would be for Rouge Vif of the two.
Of course, the hearts of many will be with Altior and it will be fascinating to see how he fares on his return to battle.
Completely Free £5 Bet on Saturday’s Henry VIII Chase at Sandown
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