Fresh blow for Henderson as Altior is ruled out of Kempton return at weekend
Altior's underwhelming season took another unfortunate twist on Tuesday morning when the ten-year-old, who is one of jump racing's biggest names, was ruled out of Saturday's Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton.
Trained by Nicky Henderson for owner Patricia Pugh, Altior had been long odds-on to get his campaign back on track after his winning run of 19 was ended by Cyrname in Ascot's 1965 Chase in November.
That defeat led to Altior being scratched from the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase, which had been his big target. Kempton's Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase two days after Christmas soon emerged as another aim, but the issue that prevented him from contesting that has also scuppered an appearance this weekend.
It is understood Altior's problem is an abscess on his withers, which had appeared to be clearing, but putting a saddle on him has inflamed it again. It is likely to be at least a week before he can have a saddle on his back and he was exercised on Tuesday on a water treadmill at Henderson's Seven Barrows yard on the outskirts of Lambourn.
The Betfair Exchange Chase – better known as the Game Spirit – at Newbury on February 8 was won by the athletic gelding in 2017 and 2018 and is set to be next target before he aims to make it three Betway Queen Mother Champion Chases in a row at Cheltenham in March.
Henderson said: "His work on Saturday was great and Nico [de Boinville] was happy with him, but I looked at him last night and he didn't look his usual fantastic self.
"He was in a lot of discomfort with the abscess over Christmas and we had to give him some quite heavy-duty antibiotics, which knocked him down a little bit, but everything was all right last week.
"He just didn't look himself to me last night – he looked tucked up and tight and Nico thought the same when he took his rugs off this morning. His blood was 100 per cent correct yesterday but you have to take your own judgement on these things and I don't think Altior looks like Altior."
The five-time champion trainer had been keen on Altior stepping up in trip, but is now focused once more on the two-mile route.
"I'd rather give him ten days and he only needs one run before Cheltenham, where he is in the Champion Chase – that is our sole objective," he added on Racing TV. "The Game Spirit works well time-wise and it's a route we've tried before so we'll go back to that. We had to make a decision today as he would have needed to work and school and I just couldn't give him the go-ahead."
Doubts about Altior's well-being surfaced on Tuesday morning after he drifted for the Kempton contest, for which stablemate and last year's winner Top Notch was a big market mover.
Betfair, Paddy Power and Unibet refunded bets on Altior, while Coral's David Stevens said: "For an hour this morning we were only laying Top Notch for Saturday's Silviniaco Conti Chase and just after 10am we took the decision to suspend betting on the race. It therefore didn't come as a complete surprise when Altior was ruled out of the race later in the morning.
"Ante-post betting obviously carries an added element of risk for both punter and bookmaker, and on this occasion it's the Top Notch backers who appear to have been rewarded for their foresight.
"Incidents like this highlight the need for information to be put into the public domain as quickly as possible, in order for both punters and layers to maintain complete confidence in the sport as a betting medium."
Top Notch is a general 8-11 for Saturday's contest, but will not have things all his own way against Ryanair Chase winner Frodon, who can be backed at 5-2 with Sky Bet and William Hill.
Frodon has been off the track since finishing a well-beaten third in the Betfair Chase in November and regular rider Bryony Frost said: "It's still a big race with big horses in there. Frodon has had a nice little break since Haydock. He's freshened up and I schooled him on Monday, when he was his normal boisterous self.
"You go there knowing Paul Nicholls trains them and that it's Frodon, who will always give you 110 per cent. Paul will have him at the best he can be, so you go there in full confidence and never ride him any different. We'll go there and get him jumping hopefully and he's in good heart.
"He was better at Haydock than he was at Aintree the time before and it was a step forward. He was at the start a lot happier and his jumping was a lot better than it was at Aintree in the Old Roan as well."
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