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'It looked for all the world he needed two and a half' - Henderson on Altior

Altior: did not live up to expectations in the Desert Orchid Chase
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Nicky Henderson remains positive Altior's star will shine again after the prolific chaser produced a dirty scope following his shock loss in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on Sunday.

The ten-year-old dual Champion Chase winner finished three and a half lengths behind Nube Negra on his first run since February and did not appear to have the zest of old as he was beaten over obstacles for only the second time.

Speaking at Newbury on Tuesday, Henderson said: "We scoped him on Christmas Eve when he was clean, but our vets have been closed so all our scopes are going to Newmarket, which takes a bit of time.

"Altior was very bright and sparky in himself this morning."

It is not uncommon for a horse to produce an unsatisfactory scope immediately after running, and Henderson added: "There was some mucus in his scope, but there always is after a race, which brings everything up from the bottom of their lungs - you seldom get a zero scope, whereas when we're scoping at home you hope they are all zeros."

Nube Negra, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by his brother Harry, leads home the field at Kempton

After being worked at from a long way out by Nico de Boinville, Altior ended the race strongly to finish second and Henderson is thinking his likely next engagement will be the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February, a race he won three times in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Entries for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival close on Tuesday, although Altior's only previous attempt going further than two miles and two furlongs ended in a debilitating defeat by Cyrname at Ascot last year.

"It looked on Sunday for all the world that he needed two and a half and he finished his race very well, which was encouraging," Henderson said.

"I haven't really thought about the Ryanair, but I haven't put him in the Clarence House because that would come too quick. He wouldn't want that, but I'll talk to the Pughs. We haven't discussed it."

Henderson also saw his Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante surprisingly beaten by Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day, but is optimistic she can rediscover her spark, along with Altior.

"I'm not too worried about Altior and Epatante; they'll be all right, I'm sure they will and if you took Nube Negra out of that race, Altior beat Duc Des Genievres by nearly five lengths giving him 6lb and going away from him at the end. You'd have said that was a bloody good performance, although the winner was there."

Henderson also played down reports of his yard briefly shutting down, but is planning a quieter few weeks for his runners while Britain is pummelled by some wintry weather.

Watch Nube Negra win the Desert Orchid

"We'll just keep working away but we're not shutting the yard, I can assure you," he said. "We worked lots of horses this morning, but I am going to go quietly while this weather is like this – it's a good time anyway as they've all got to have a flu jab.

"The ground is filthy everywhere. There are only two going descriptions, heavy and abandoned. We might have a couple at Sandown on Saturday, but it's more the races not particularly suiting us. We'll just go quietly and won't have a million runners in the next fortnight."

Read more:

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Nicky Henderson yard to enter short shutdown following Kempton flops

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He finished his race very well, which was encouraging
E.W. Terms