One of the most eagerly-anticipated races of Cheltenham Festival 2020 has been dealt a blow with the news that Altior will not run in the Champion Chase.
The two-time winner of the race had been reported as lame by trainer Nicky Henderson on Sunday, who revealed that he was facing a race against time to get the ten-year-old fit for Wednesday’s showdown with Defi Du Seuil.
But Henderson has been forced to admit defeat in his quest to set Altior off for an attempt at the hat-trick after the horse failed to recover his fitness sufficiently.
“We were genuinely optimistic that, as long as that recovery rate was maintained, he’d be sound this morning,” the Seven Barrows handler said. “That is not the case.
“It’s flattened off, he hasn’t improved at all from last night, whereas the night before he improved dramatically. Consequently, I think it’s only right now that he will be taken out of the race.”
Altior suffered his first ever defeat in November when stepping up in trip to contest the Christy 1965 Chase, where he was downed by Cyrname, but a return to two-miles next time out saw him bounce back to form with aplomb in an unstoppable victory in the Game Spirit Chase.
Punters were licking their lips in prospect at him locking horns with Defi Du Seuil, a fellow Grade 1 winner, and the improving Chacun Pour Soi, but such battles will now have to wait until later in the season, perhaps at Aintree or Sandown Park.
Good for the Seuil
Race fans want to see the best horses go up against one another on the big stage, and owners and trainers will also try to kid you of the same.
But the truth is that the connections all of the remaining runners and riders in the Champion Chase will be over-the-moon that Altior is not their to contest one of Wednesday’s standouts at the festival.
Defi Du Seuil has seen his odds slashed in the wake of Altior’s withdrawal, and he’s into around the 11/10 mark at the time of going to press.
A winner at Cheltenham both at the festival (the JLT Novices’ Chase) and in November in the Shloer Chase, JP McManus’ horse has the pedigree to win the Champion Chase.
But he has already been beaten by his main rival here, Chacun Pour Soi, albeit on quicker ground than expected at Prestbury Park this week.
Chacun Pour Soi has won on three of his last four starts, but those have tended to come on firmer ground and his only real outing on the heavy stuff saw him defeated quite comfortably by A Plus Tard at Leopardstown.
One of the most eagerly anticipated races of the whole festival, let alone on Wednesday’s card, it’s a crying shame that Altior will not be on the premises to contest the race in which he has made his name.
But at least the two main players left in the field will surely combine to put in a fantastic show nonetheless.