All change: Altior straight to Cheltenham as Henderson reveals shock Champ move
Nicky Henderson has revealed that Altior will head straight to the Cheltenham Festival rather than run in the rearranged Game Spirit Chase next weekend, with stablemate Champ dropping considerably in trip for that Grade 2 race at Newbury in a surprise move.
Four-time Cheltenham Festival winner Altior has only run four times since winning his second Queen Mother Champion Chase in March 2019 and made his seasonal return at Kempton in December, finishing second behind Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid Chase.
He had been expected to run in the Betfair-backed Game Spirit Chase over 2m½f, a race he has won three times, in preparation for a tilt at regaining his Champion Chase crown, a festival contest he is a general 8-1 chance for behind odds-on favourite Chacun Pour Soi.
Champ, a dramatic winner of last season’s RSA Chase, has been billed as a potential WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup contender but has yet to run this season, with an autumn wind operation delaying his return.
He had been due to make his first start of the season in the Betfair Denman Chase over 2m7½f against rivals including Clan Des Obeaux and Lostintranslation.
However, with Newbury's Super Saturday card cancelled due to frozen ground and rearranged to next Sunday, the loss of eight days has caused the Seven Barrows trainer to reconsider plans for two of his leading lights.
In a statement, Henderson said: "With regards to Altior and Champ, under the current circumstances and having discussed the situation in detail with all connections involved, we have come to the conclusion that Altior will head straight to the Cheltenham Festival for the Champion Chase without a run beforehand.
"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 awayday at some stage in the next ten days.
"However, we have decided to change things around with Champ, very much for the same reason and our close proximity to the festival. He will now drop back down to two miles and contest the Game Spirit Chase instead of the Denman Chase.
"He hasn't run for a year so we could be in danger that three miles may be slightly too far for his first run of the season. He is a fresh horse and can be quite free in his races so it would be harder to curtail enthusiasm and you're never going to take as much out over two miles as you are over three.
"He could be keen and do too much, so in the interest of the Gold Cup being his ultimate goal it is preferable to run over a shorter distance which could stop him having a harder race than necessary and also help eliminate the risk of the bounce factor.
"He was a very useful horse over two and a half miles last season and I think that the Game Spirit could suit him well, both in the short term and the long term."
Henderson, who congratulated Newbury, race sponsors, the BHA and ITV for rearranging the card, confirmed further support for the meeting as Buzz, Mister Coffey and possibly Fred will take their chance in the Betfair Hurdle.
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