Altior, unbeaten in 16 starts over obstacles, sprinkles some stardust on Ascot’s mid-January card on Saturday, when he faces just two rivals in the Matchbook Clarence House Chase, his last start before defending his Champion Chase title at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old beat Diego du Charmil by 19 lengths at Christmas without coming out of second gear, and he defeated Fox Norton, his other rival, by 13 lengths in the 2017 Game Spirit Chase when still a novice. Also, having not run for just over 12 months, Colin Tizzard’s chaser may need this race.
So, if Saturday is to be anything other than an exhibition and Altior is to slip up, he will have to bring his own banana skin, but at odds of 1-8 this should be an opportunity to watch, enjoy and appreciate greatness rather than invest.
However, no matter how straightforward the task, it does not make it any easier for his trainer to watch and, as anyone who has ever been involved with a really good horse will know, expectation brings its own pressures.
Henderson has always beaten about the bush when comparing Altior to his other great two-mile chaser, Sprinter Sacre, another horse he watched through his fingers. But on Friday he confirmed Altior was now in “Sprinter Sacre territory”.