CHAMPION trainer Nicky Henderson remains in a quandary over steeplechasing superstar Altior’s intended comeback run at Newbury this weekend.
Though he wants the chaser to have a prep race before next month’s Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, he is still in two minds about running the highly-rated eight-year-old.
Altior has not been seen in competitive action so far this season after a breathing operation ruled him out of the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December.
Henderson has been thrilled with how his charge has performed since returning to full work, but he still has reservations about Altior, the mount of Nico de Boinville, running in the Betfair Exchange Chase.
“I think he is going to go, but I am not going to promise,” he said.
“I did want to get another school into him.
“He schooled last week and he was fantastic, but he was nearly too fantastic. He would want to do it again to take that freshness out of him.
“He was so fresh that he wanted to murder them.”
Altior is as short as even-money to clinch the two-mile chasing crown and claim a third Cheltenham Festival success following his previous triumphs in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and last season’s Arkle Trophy.
However, the trainer knows one wrong move at this stage could ruin the horse’s Cheltenham chances. “I’d buy another week with him,” Henderson added.
“The only danger is, because he is so talented, the work is too easy for him. We are lucky we have got so many good horses, but he can chew them up a bit.
“I’d like to get a race into him. If he gets beaten, he gets beaten – he is going to get beaten one day. You have got to hope he doesn’t, but you have got to look at it like that.”
Meanwhile, Arkle runner-up Cloudy Dream – trained by the late Malcolm Jefferson – features among the entries for Newbury’s Denman Chase.
The admirably consistent chaser, a flagbearer for Yorkshire racing, would be a high-profile runner for Jefferson’s daughter Ruth, who has taken over the training licence at the family’s Malton stables following the death of her father last Friday.
Possible rivals include Native River, who was third in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Kevin Ryan is already looking forward to a Flat campaign with top dual purpose runner Beyond The Clouds after an impressive win at Musselburgh on Sunday
It is now three out of three over hurdles for the five-year-old, but he is not even entered in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Races at Kelso and Aintree beckon.
“You couldn’t help but be impressed with him,” said Hambleton-based Ryan. “The thing is he will go back on the Flat, this horse. He’s a horse for the future.”