Having won all but one of his 16 races over fences, it might seem a little harsh to suggest that Altior has something to prove when he finally returns to action at Kempton Park this afternoon, 10 months on from a win in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury which appeared, at the time, to set up a memorable clash with Chacun Pour Soi in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
Neither horse made it to the starting line in the end, of course, while Altior’s sudden departure from the field three days before the race was the fifth time in the 2019-20 season alone that he had missed a contest that had previously been inked – or at least, heavily pencilled – into his schedule.
The counter moved to six when he was scratched from the Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier this month less than 24 hours beforehand but now, at last, a fortunate few at Kempton Park will finally get to see him in the flesh.
If he is anywhere close to his best, the 4-5 currently on offer about Altior will seem, with hindsight, to be one of the bets of the decade. He is 9lb clear of Sceau Royal, the second-favourite, on official ratings and set off at a much skinner 1-8 when he won this race two years ago.
But that was two years ago and Altior is now within sight of his 11th birthday, which makes the market’s scepticism much easier to understand. There is also little doubt that the Champion Chase in March is the only race on Nicky Henderson’s mind – he said as much when Altior was taken out of the Tingle Creek, much to the annoyance of the Grade One’s sponsor, Betfair – and so he is unlikely to be much more than 80% ready for today’s return. And an 80% Altior in December 2020 could be a very different animal to an 80% Altior in 2018.
It should make for a fascinating race, however, as Duc De Genievres, Sceau Royal and Rouge Vif all have credible chances, and it will be run just an hour after Altior’s stable companion Shishkin, a potential inheritor of his two-mile mantle, goes to post for the Wayward Lad Novice Chase, a race that Altior himself won in 2016 on the way to an odds-on success in the Arkle at Cheltenham.
You can follow all the action and reaction live here throughout the day, while tips for the revised schedule on ITV after the abandonment of Chepstow’s Welsh National card this morning are here.