Plenty of Ascot rivalry for Altior to contend with

WINNERS: Altior and jockey Nico de Boinville after winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Picture: David Davies/PA
WINNERS: Altior and jockey Nico de Boinville after winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Picture: David Davies/PA
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Altior will face a maximum of eight rivals if taking up his entry in the Matchbook Clarence House Chase at Ascot on January 19.

Nicky Henderson’s superstar extended his unbeaten record over fences to 11 and notched his 16th successive win overall with another bloodless victory in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton last week.

The nine-year-old will undoubtedly be a red-hot favourite to add another Grade One prize to his record if turning up in Berkshire later this month, on the way to defending his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.

Altior could renew rivalry with Irish raider Un De Sceaux, who has won this race in each of the last three seasons and at least gave Henderson’s charge something to think about when they clashed in the Tingle Creek at Sandown last month.

Norton handler Ruth Jefferson could run Waiting Patiently following his unfortunate early exit in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue could also drop back in trip after seemingly having his stamina limitations exposed in the Boxing Day showpiece.

Nicholls has Diego Du Charmil too, while Colin Tizzard’s Fox Norton, Harry Fry’s Hell’s Kitchen, the Tom George-trained God’s Own and Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados round out the potential field.

Henderson is still at a loss to explain Might Bite’s lacklustre effort in the King George.

The 2017 winner was last of seven finishers after posting a similarly disappointing effort in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on his seasonal bow in November.

Might Bite was reported to have bled following the King George, but further tests have so far failed to produce an explanation for his below-par form this term.

Henderson said: “He is fine and I can’t tell you any more as I don’t know any more. He had an exercise on Monday and Toby (Lawes, assistant trainer) rode him out.

“We can’t find anything and they (results) were all right. We are considering dozens of things as there is something not right, that is fair to say. Where we find it, goodness only knows.

“We are talking to lots of different experts on 10 different subjects.”

Tornado Flyer, meanwhile, is likely to head Willie Mullins’s assault on the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle as he bids for an eighth win in the Grade One at the County Kildare course on Sunday.

The six-year-old made a winning debut over hurdles at Punchestown last month, after ending last term with victory in the Champion Bumper at the Punchestown Festival.

Come To Me and Getareason are the other two possible Mullins representatives.

“Tornado Flyer would look a likely one and there’s a couple of others that could run there, too,” said the Closutton handler.

“Come To Me was a good winner of his maiden hurdle at Cork a few weeks ago and Getareason is another that could line up. He ran well at Navan over this trip last month.”

The 17 possibles also include the unbeaten Battleoverdoyen, one of five horses who could represent trainer Gordon Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud.

The Meath-based handler can also call on the Gigginstown-owned Defi Bleu, Felix Desjy, Monbeg Worldwide and Commander Of Fleet.

Noel Meade last won the race in 2012 with Monksland and could seek to bridge that gap with First Approach and Valdieu.

Meade is eyeing compensation in the Irish Gold Cup for Road To Respect following his luckless run at Leopardstown last Friday.

After making a scintillating reappearance in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in November, the Gigginstown-owned eight-year-old was favourite to successfully defend his crown in the Savills Chase.

However, he stumbled badly on the run to the second fence from the finish, shuffling him back in the field to take third.

Last season, Road To Respect went straight from Christmas to the Cheltenham Gold Cup – finishing fourth – but this time he may return to Leopardstown for the Irish Gold Cup on February 3.