Henderson star rated higher than Sprinter Sacre at same stage of career
Altior will go into next month's Racing Post Arkle Chase at Cheltenham rated even higher than his brilliant stable companion Sprinter Sacre at the same stage of his career five years ago following a 10lb rise for Saturday's impressive Newbury win.
Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old, who is a top-priced 4-11 chance for the Arkle with Betfair, has had his BHA mark raised to 170, a pound higher than that awarded to Sprinter Sacre after his good win in the same race as a novice, and the mark also on which he ended that season. Altior's revised Racing Post Rating is even higher at 175, 4lb superior to Sprinter Sacre's at the same stage.
BHA handicapper Graeme Smith was conscious of the inevitable comparison when he awarded Altior such a lofty mark, but while he points out that 170 is what he calls "a holding figure" and remains hopeful of "a more definitive guide to his ability" following Cheltenham, it is a figure he is comfortable with.
He said: "There’s nothing concrete to base a rating on at present, as a line through Fox Norton’s best leads to 175 and Dodging Bullets’ pre-race rating to 177. That would be a big call on a novice, particularly pre-Cheltenham, and with Fox Norton’s jumping and Dodging Bullets’ recent profile in mind I felt I had to go lower.
"The figure I settled on is a 10lb improvement from Altior's pre-race mark, but that figure could have been higher on a line through Marracudja from Kempton. That 170 rates higher than Douvan’s end-of-season 169 from his novice campaign, but these things are often about opportunity – Douvan always looked capable of 170+ but was never pushed into producing it kept among novices."
Altior still has a long way to go in order to match Sprinter Sacre's peak figure of 188, awarded after 2013's runaway defeat of Sizing Europe in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but he is now only 4lb behind Douvan (3lb on Racing Post Ratings), who beat Sunday's Grade 1 winner Sizing John easily in last year's Arkle and again in December.
Douvan, who like Sprinter Sacre ended his novice season on 169, has yet to be tested seriously in nine races over fences and is generally around 1-3 for this year's Betway Champion Chase, for which Altior is also entered.
A clash between the pair some time in 2017 is a mouthwatering prospect, albeit one that Paddy Power rate a 5-1 chance, even though Aintree's Melling Chase, Punchestown, or Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase would all provide opportunities for such a showdown.
BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith is comfortable with his colleague's assessment of Altior and added: "As a handicapper you are much more comfortable with giving them what they appeared to achieve when they are not just running against their own type. Like Coneygree and Thistlecrack, this guy has done it against non novices.
"I was hammered for having Coneygree higher than Denman had been at the same stage, but he had beaten a load of worthy high 150 horses out of sight in the Denman Chase. This guy is in the same sort of category and it seems that trainers are now more ballsy in terms of running their better novices against established horses. I think that adds a lot."
Among the other significant rises revealed by the BHA is a 12lb hike to 147 for Betfair Hurdle winner Ballyandy. He has taken old rival Moon Racer with him, for David Pipe's grey has not raced since November yet, having beaten Ballyandy twice in the autumn, is now on 148, up 7lb.
The Debra Hamer-trained Tobefair, who has won seven consecutive races, is now rated 143, up 9lb, having begun his winning streak on just 81.