When it came, the explanation made perfect sense. “Altior doesn’t look like Altior,” Nicky Henderson said as he explained his decision to rule his stablestar out of the Grade Two Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday, a race which was set to be his first start since surrendering his 19-race unbeaten record over obstacles when beaten by Cyrname in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot in November.
An early-morning market drift yesterday suggested that all was not well with the 10-year-old and a tweet from Henderson shortly before midday confirmed the seemingly inevitable.
The Seven Barrows trainer later told his Unibet blog: “We do not feel he looks his absolute best.”
Henderson later expanded on that statement in an interview with Racing TV, explaining that the abscess that ruled Altior out of the Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas was behind his current underwhelming appearance.
“His work on Saturday was great and Nico [de Boinville] was happy with him and said he feels himself, but I looked at him last night and, to me, he just didn’t look like Altior,” Henderson said.
“The trouble is he had to miss the other race [Desert Orchid Chase] due to an abscess on his wither. It was horrible and very nasty, and he was very tender on it. He was in a lot of discomfort and we had to give him some heavy-duty antibiotics to get rid of that, and everyone knows what antibiotics can do to you – they knock you down a little bit.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with him. There was nothing wrong with his blood yesterday and you have to take your own judgement on these things and I just don’t think Altior looks like Altior. Nico took Altior’s rug off this morning to tack him up and said the same thing.
“I’m sure he’s fine, maybe I’m just fussing about nothing? But I know what he should look like and I know what he looks like now!
Altior’s Ascot defeat came when stepped in trip in preparation for a potential tilt at the King George VI Chase over three miles on St Stephen’s Day.
However, the gruelling nature of that race ended that ambitious plan and Henderson yesterday revealed the son of Derby winner High Chaparral will revert to two miles at the Cheltenham Festival where he will bid to go where only Badsworth Boy has gone before by winning the Champion Chase for a third time.
His prep race for that Cheltenham assignment will now be the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on February 8, a race he won in 2017 before winning the Arkle at the Festival and again a year later ahead of his first Champion Chase.
“There’s no point trying to come back for the Clarence House Chase next week,” Henderson explained.
“We are going to give ourselves a bit of time. He only needs one run and there’s only one race that he’s in at Cheltenham and that is the Champion Chase, therefore the Game Spirit fits in well.
“It’s a route we have tried before, and we’ll just go back to that.”