Trainer Nicky Henderson aware of need for Altior and Champ to run at Newbury to boost Cheltenham Festival hopes

Trainer Nicky Henderson with dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior.Trainer Nicky Henderson with dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior.
Trainer Nicky Henderson with dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior.
NICKY Henderson has confirmed Altior and Champ will take up their respective engagements at Newbury – even if tomorrow’s high-profile card is rescheduled for the following weekend.

The Berkshire track’s Betfair Super Saturday fixture is already in serious doubt following several days of sub-zero temperatures, with an inspection called for 8.30am today.

If, as feared, it is called off, the card will be moved to Sunday, February 21, in order to guarantee coverage on ITV.

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Henderson said earlier this week he would “desperately request” that both the Betfair Denman Chase and the Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Chase – better known as the Game Spirit – were saved, to give Champ and Altior the opportunity to run ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.

Nicky Henderson is training Champ (near side) for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup.Nicky Henderson is training Champ (near side) for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Nicky Henderson is training Champ (near side) for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

And speaking yesterday morning, the champion trainer gave his backing to restaging the meeting, which also includes the lucrative Betfair Hurdle, on Sunday week.

Henderson said: “It’s fine by me. It’s the plan to run both Altior and Champ – they’ve got to have runs.

“We’re discussing everything with owners and things and it’s frustrating, but really nothing changes.

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“I need to talk to Patricia Pugh about Altior and JP (McManus) about Champ, obviously. (But) if they send the whole card there (February 21), then we’ll be there.

“I must say it will be a great effort on behalf of Newbury, the British Horseracing Authority, the sponsors and ITV should it all come off.”

He added: “The horses were all geared up for this weekend and we’re just going to have to explain to them that Henderson has got his dates wrong!”

Having suffered just his second defeat over obstacles when beaten by Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on his latest appearance, Altior will head to Newbury aiming to prove he still has what it takes to land a third Queen Mother Champion Chase next month.

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Champ, meanwhile, will be looking to confirm himself a legitimate Cheltenham Gold Cup contender in the Denman Chase, having been off the track since his last-gasp victory in the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival.

As weather plays havoc with pre-Cheltenham preparations, tomorrow’s high-profile card at Warwick must also pass an inspection tomorrow – parts of the track are frozen under frost covers. If called off, the fixture will be moved to Monday.

Meanwhile, trainer Sandy Thomson hailed Yorkhill a “superstar” after confirming the dual Cheltenham Festival hero had been retired due to injury.

The 11-year-old claimed back-to-back victories at the showpiece meeting when trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins – landing the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and JLT Novices’ Chase 12 months later, but subsequently lost his form.

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After owners Graham and Andrea Wylie opted to take a break from racing last year, Yorkhill moved across the Irish Sea prior to the start of this season to run in the colours of David Armstrong, his wife Donna and top golfer Lee Westwood.

And while he was pulled up on his first run for his new connections in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree in October, the following month he rolled back the years to land a popular all-the-way victory in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle under Ryan Mania.

However, having suffered a tendon injury when being prepared to run in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month, time has now been called on the mercurial gelding’s racing career.

Thomson said: “It’s disappointing news, but it’s been a huge privilege to train Yorkhill - I can’t thank Dave and Donna and Lee enough.

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“It was a very special day when he won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. It was great for everybody, including all of Dave’s staff, who did a lot of hard work with him before he came to us.

“He’s going out in one piece, he’ll have another life and he’ll love it. We’re lucky that we’ve been involved with such a superstar.”

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