Forgotten Fox Norton in the frame to challenge superstar Altior at Ascot
Colin Tizzard had three Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders showcase their wellbeing over Christmas, along with a new potential star bursting through on New Year’s Day, and the trainer is now preparing to unleash two-time Grade 1 winner Fox Norton, who has superstar Altior in his sights.
It has been a fruitful festive spell for the powerful Dorset yard and in forgotten horse Fox Norton they have yet another reason to be cheerful, with the nine-year-old being readied for a crack at Altior in the Matchbook Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday fortnight.
Tizzard revealed on Wednesday: "Fox Norton's nearly ready to run. He's been absolutely fine and the plan would be to have one run and then go to Cheltenham, but we’ll have to decide for what race.
"He very nearly won the Champion Chase a couple of years ago, remember, so we've got that to think about. I'd say races over two to two and a half miles is what we'd be looking at for him in the spring. I wouldn’t go further than that with him again."
Injury has meant dual Grade 1 winner Fox Norton has not run since pulling up behind Might Bite in the 2017 King George VI Chase. He has been installed at 12-1 for the Ascot Grade 1, for which Altior is 2-7 favourite.
It has been a fine spell for Tizzard, who strengthened his hand for the Magners-backed Gold Cup with Thistlecrack and Native River running bold races in last month's King George VI Chase, while Elegant Escape captured the Welsh Grand National.
Lostintranslation then thrust himself firmly into the picture for the championship novice races at the festival after a rallying defeat of Defi Du Seuil in the Dipper Novices' Chase, enabling the Tizzard stable to begin the new year as they had finished the old.
Potential rivals to Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Altior are far from plentiful, as emphasised by just nine entries being received for the Clarence House – an almost unheard of small figure for an early-closing race.
Having been one of the leading fancies for the Ryanair Chase last year, Fox Norton might have been expected to head down the two-and-a-half-mile route this season, but shorter distances remain in play.
The prospect of taking on Altior at Ascot, or Cheltenham, does not faze jockey Robbie Power, who said: "I’m sure we’ll keep all options open as it’s still a long way to go until Cheltenham. There could well be a small-field Champion Chase, with what Altior’s been doing, and our lad was only just beaten in a Champion Chase. He’s won a Grade 1 over two miles and it would be a real option for him.
"He’s a very good horse, you have to remember that. He was only a head away from doing the treble of winning at the spring festivals as he won at Aintree and Punchestown after Cheltenham.
"There’s no doubt he’s a very talented horse and I’m looking forward to getting him back on the track. We can make plans about where we go after that."
Despite only nine entries, the Clarence House has the potential to feature some of racing’s headline names with Un De Sceaux, Waiting Patiently, Saint Calvados and Politologue also given the option.
Top-level races are on the cards too for Lostintranslation following his defeat of Defi Du Seuil in the Dipper.
A post-race veterinary report stated the seven-year-old had sustained "a wound" to his left-hind, but Tizzard revealed: "It was just a scratch, absolutely nothing."
He added: "He's a lovely young horse and the most beautiful horse to look at. He's got everything about him.
"It's rare I get so blown away by a horse. We’ll talk between us and decide what the best option is [at Cheltenham] for him."
While the Christmas performances of Thistlecrack, Native River and Elegant Escape buoyed Tizzard in his ambitions to retain the Gold Cup in March, he will have to do without Sizing Tennessee after he was ruled out for the season with leg soreness.
A runaway winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, the 11-year-old had been a 25-1 shot for Cheltenham, and Tizzard said: "It’s just soreness. It’s minor but it’s something we can't ignore. He’ll have the summer off and come back next season."
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