Awesome Altior earns Sprinter comparisons in Arkle audition
On the day the former two-mile chasing king of Seven Barrows paraded before racing, Altior showed exactly why trainer Nicky Henderson might not have to wait long for a replacement for Sprinter Sacre as he produced a performance that oozed class and left those watching drooling.
Onlookers may also have been hoping the ultra-impressive display would lead to a showdown with the mighty Douvan in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at next month's Cheltenham Festival, but Henderson thinks that can wait – and boy it will be worth waiting for.
Altior, who hardened his position as favourite for the Racing Post Arkle and is as short as 1-4 with William Hill, may not, however, have been able to come through his dress rehearsal in the race better known as the Game Spirit.
That is because Henderson had kittens deliberating about his stable star's participation due to the testing ground.
"Oh crikey, I had moments last night when he definitely wasn't going to run," said the trainer, who had walked the course in his wellies before racing. "Kempton's ground yesterday put me off and we love Kempton, but it wasn't quite as good as it normally is there."
Owned by Patricia Pugh, Altior had the world at his feet when winning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year and gave connections reason to ponder over the summer before they plumped for a chasing campaign.
Henderson, whose wellies had been replaced by mahogany loafers, made a play for understatement of the year when saying: "We chose to go down this route and I think he's good at it."
Regarding how his athletic seven-year-old stacks up with two-time Champion Chase hero Sprinter Sacre, who was retired in November, Henderson added: "There are obviously going to be comparisons made, but it's impossible to think you could put one away and pull another rabbit out of the hat because the world doesn't work like that, but we've always thought Altior was very good.
"I was disappointed the day he got beat in a bumper because he's always looked very special. He's a very professional horse and is very talented. You could win any race – he could run on the Flat. We've got two nice Champion Hurdle horses [Brain Power and Buveur D'Air], but if Altior had stayed hurdling he'd be favourite."
He might not be favourite for a date with Douvan – Paddy Power make the pair 5-2 for next year's Champion Chase – but a meeting this season seems unlikely, although Sandown's bet365 Celebration Chase might be the likeliest race to play host to that match.
"I think the one horse we know in Britain and Ireland that you'd avoid at all costs is Douvan," said Henderson. "Willie's [Mullins] had a brutal time and I'm not saying I feel sorry for him or Rich [Ricci] and we're going to stick to the Arkle, but I don't see the need to go for the Champion Chase.
"The lovely thought would be him taking Douvan on for a rumble in the jungle in a year's time."