Is there still hope of another Queen Mother Champion Chase triumph from Altior?
Few horses have had as much success at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years than Altior. The Nicky Henderson-trained horse takes to the tracks of Prestbury Park like a duck to water, and at the past five or six Festivals, he has showed little mercy to his counterparts, leaving the likes of Min in his wake time-after-time.
It was a monumental shame when it was revealed in the build-up to the Queen Mother Champion Chase last year that Altior had been pulled out due to injury. Not just because the 11-year-old was gunning for a third successive win in the two-mile race, but the day two showpiece had the potential to be one of the races of the meeting.
The prospect of Altior versus Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil had punters foaming at the mouth. However, Chacun Pour Soi joined Altior on the injury list and Defi Du Seuil disappointed as Politologue stole the spotlight in the end.
With the annual meeting once again on the horizon, all attention has turned to the Cheltenham Festival betting, and you’d be quick to notice that the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi is the odds-on favourite for the Queen Mother at 4/6, whilst Altior is some way back in second at 7/1.
It is perhaps a good indication that the horse is no longer the cert he once was. It would have taken a fool to back any of Altior’s foes to beat him in the past, but now it seems like his best days are beyond him and he is in the autumn of his career.
His form since the back end of 2019 has left much to be desired. In November of that year, he was beaten for the first time in 19 races by Cyrname in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot, and when it looked like he had got back on track with a win at Newbury in February 2020, he was once again beaten in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton back in December.
A last-minute reshuffle to preparations from Henderson’s yard ahead of the Festival certainly won’t have helped Altior’s hopes of regaining his Queen Mother crown. With the Betfair Hurdle card at Newbury being postponed by a week due to frost, horses who competed at the meeting had just three weeks to recover in time for Cheltenham.
Such a short timeframe left Henderson with no choice but to pull Altior from the card, rerouting him directly for Prestbury Park, whilst Champ, who is now amongst the favourites in the Gold Cup Non Runner Money Back Ante Post betting, was sworn in to take his place in the Game Spirit instead. It certainly would have been a headache for the former Cheltenham Leading Trainer but given the full-on nature in which Altior takes to races, he wouldn’t have had enough time to recover, and Henderson made that clear.
“Altior will head straight to the Cheltenham Festival for the Champion Chase without a run beforehand,” the trainer said in a statement released on Twitter. “He is in excellent form, but he does tend to take his races quite hard and we have therefore decided to continue his preparation at home and almost certainly an away day at some stage in the next ten days.”
An ‘away day’, perhaps a gallop at a local track or something along those lines, will certainly have punters thinking about steering clear of Altior, especially with Chacun Pour Soi’s recent victories, which includes an eight-length triumph in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase last month. Whilst some may believe that Politologue and Nube Negra, who have both run more recently, pose more of a threat to the Mullins favourite than Altior.
At 11 years of age, it will most likely be Altior’s last outing at the Cheltenham Festival, and despite the setbacks and so on, how good would it be to see him sail off into the sunset with another Queen Mother title under his belt.