Trainer Nicky Henderson has confirmed that the first big target for Altior will be the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day – and has not ruled out a crack at the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup should his stable star come through that test with flying colours.
The nine-year-old will step up to 3m for the first time in the Christmas showpiece at the Sunbury-on-Thames venue and is currently the 3/1 favourite with Betfred in the ante post betting.
Altior is a four-time Cheltenham Festival having landed the Supreme Novices Hurdle (2016), Arkle Trophy (2017) and Queen Mother Champion Chase (2018/19).
He became jump racing’s world record holder when landing the Celebration Chase at Sandown for a third consecutive year at Sandown back in April under regular pilot Nico de Boinville.
The awesome Patricia and Chris Pugh owned gelding also surpassed the record of 18 consecutive victories of legendary staying hurdler Big Buck’s that day and has won all but two of his 22 starts and scooped over £1.2 million in prize money.
Ascot Clash with Cyrname on Seasonal Reappearance
Speaking on his Unibet blog, Lambourn handler Henderson said: “Patricia and Chris Pugh came down to the yard this week and saw Altior on the gallops and after plenty of input from everyone we have decided that we are going to go down the King George route, therefore the obvious race to start in is the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on November 23rd.
“We were considering the Peterborough Chase at Huntington on December 8th but the timing for the Ascot race is ideal so everything tells us to go there. It’s the only and obvious road (we think!) and while nothing is set in stone, that is very much our intention at the moment. “Nico is definitely of the opinion that he wants at least an extra half mile and thinks he will actually benefit from going further – in fact he says ‘the further we go the better we go’ so I have to listen as that’s what your jockeys are there for.
“Obviously we’re forfeiting the Tingle Creek but he’s going to get beaten one day so I think we have to go down another road and if it doesn’t work out we can always go back to the Game Spirit, Champion Chase and do all of that again, but hopefully we won’t have to. “It means that the eagerly awaited and mouth-watering clash with Cyrname in the 1965 Chase – an Ascot specialist who is rated 1lb higher than Altior reappearance – is now confirmed.
Tempting 14/1 for Chasing’s Blue Riband Contest
All roads will then lead to Kempton, and should Altior win the King George then Henderson believes a crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup over a further two furlongs would merit serious consideration. “Assuming we get to the King George in one piece and win, then I guess the Gold Cup questions will start being asked but until we get to Kempton on Boxing Day we simply cannot answer anything else before then, ” said Henderson.
“I’m sure he will stay further. Sometimes last year everyone could see that he wasn’t going as well in his races as he probably should have been which was because he was nearly flat to the boards, hence we are all in agreement that the step up in trip is in his best interest.
“A lot of people have told me we have to go up to three miles and that he isn’t a true champion until he’s raced over different distances, so ok, he’s being aimed at the King George by popular demand! Joking aside, it’s not to prove that point, we are doing it simply because we genuinely believe he wants it.
“Altior is now in full work and doing plenty of swinging canters. I’m not saying he’s fully forward but he’ll be well ready for Ascot in November anyway!”
Altior looks the ideal type for the Gold Cup in my eyes and is a tempting 14/1 with bet365 for chasing’s blue riband contest on the final day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
Bullish About Buveur D’air
Henderson, who was speaking before an owners’ day at his stables, also reported dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’air to be in terrific shape.
He said: “Buveur D’air looks fantastic and I couldn’t be happier with him at this stage. He’ll take the usual route to Cheltenham and we’ll kick off at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth which will be a good starting point towards winning a third Unibet Champion Hurdle.”
Buveur D’air, who won the Champion Hurdle in 2017 and 2018 before falling in this year’s renewal, is 7/1 with Betfred to retain his crown.