Nicky Henderson is relieved to have finally got Altior’s season up and running – and “all is going well” for his bid to emulate Badsworth Boy in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Not since Michael and Monica Dickinson’s 1980s great has any horse landed a hat-trick in the two-mile championship – and Altior is also bidding to become a five-time Festival hero, having won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle.
Altior lost his 19-race unbeaten streak first time out at Ascot to Cyrname – a reverse Henderson is still kicking himself over – but he showed the engine remains intact when winning at Newbury recently, and it is all systems go for March.
“All is going well at the moment, and he is in good form,” said Henderson, during a media morning on Monday.
“He has just had a couple of quiet days since Newbury.
“We will start to tick along and give him a couple of schools soon. We seldom school him, but I think he enjoys it.
“If you take Newbury as his first run of the season, which you virtually have to, it was perfect. If we were coming into the Tingle Creek or something (next), you would have to say he is spot on.
“The disaster was the first run of the year – it was in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong ground over the wrong trip. I couldn’t have made a worse job if I had tried.
“I’ve always said if it wasn’t for there being so much hype, and there hadn’t been the big build-up (he would not have run) – I should have really been the spoilsport and taken him out on the morning of the race, but you couldn’t really.”
Despite Altior’s defeat on his first run over two miles and five furlongs, Henderson is adamant his stamina is not an issue.
“We think we stay (further) anyway,” he added.
“If they go quick in a bog it might not help us, but he will lie up with them.
“He has got it (that turn of foot) – and it works. He jumped the final fence last year, then off – he was gone and cleared away. I’d love to go to Aintree (for the Melling Chase over two-miles-four-furlongs), but he is not a horse that can do that.
“We wanted to go there a couple of years ago, but he hadn’t recovered from Cheltenham. He is good at telling (jockey) Nico (de Boinville) when he is absolutely on song, or 10 degrees under. If he said he is ready I would love to go to Aintree and try him over two and a half there.
“We have been through all these years with Sprinter (Sacre), and the pressure was much the same -because everyone expected him to win. This year’s race is very competitive – and so it should be. It is going to be a big battle.”
Stablemate Santini is among the favourites for the Gold Cup, having been placed at the last two Festivals, and arrives on the back of a victory over Bristol De Mai last month.
“We know he likes Cheltenham, and he has run two cracking races there,” said Henderson.
“His race in the RSA last year was fantastic, because we had a dreadful time with him. We were trotting him up outside, and he had problems with his feet. Then we had flu vaccinations, and he was meant to have a run in the Reynoldstown, and he had no preparation or racecourse experience anything.
“I admit he wasn’t very impressive first time out at Sandown. We cauterised him after that, and there was no point going to the King George because Kempton is not his track. We had to wait for the Cotswold Chase, and that is where we were always going to go.
“He is just starting work again now and did a bit on Saturday. He is not an Altior at home, but he is a very enthusiastic horse and he loves his work. He needs a lot of work, but the more you get into him the better he is.
“He had a tough enough race at Cheltenham, but he has come back bouncing.
“He was exactly the opposite to Altior – because whereas from day one you knew he was a rocket, Santini, the first year he was here I said to Richard (Kelvin-Hughes, owner) ‘he is not a bumper horse’.
“He should be a better horse than last season because he is a big, old-fashioned type of chaser. He is hardy, too. Like them all, he needs a good run for the next three weeks.”
Henderson also confirmed Might Bite will take on Tiger Roll in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
He said: “He has to practise at Cheltenham, because it is in the rules, and I would like to practise twice.”