By Geoffrey Riddle at Newbury
On the back of just three gallops since he was last seen 287 days ago in the Celebration Chase at Sandown Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old was making his seasonal bow after undergoing a wind operation.
Despite the layoff and claims by the trainer that he was vulnerable for the first time in his unbeaten sequence of 11 over jumps the dual Cheltenham Festival winner was sent off the 1-3 favourite to claim the Grade Two contest, better known as the Game Spirit, for the second successive year.
There were few concerns and in the closing stages Nico de Boinville moved his mount through the gears to put four lengths on Politologue at the line.
The Paul Nicholls-trained grey, the star of the division this season in Altior's absence after landing the Haldon Gold Cup, Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase, was as short as 7-2 for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, and with likley improvement it is no surprise Altior is now 4-5 from 11-8 to make it a third Festival win. He joins Buveur D'Air and Apple's Jade in the odds-on club for next month's Cheltenham Festival.
Henderson said: "What we knew is that he was in fantastic form. He has had three bits of work and he never got as far as galloping before we stopped (for the breathing operation), so he has actually had three bits of work since Sandown in April.
"He has so many gears. He just has class, it is just pure class and he is very good.
"The danger is that his work is so easy. We are lucky we have got a wonderful bunch of horses, but we haven't got much that can go with him. You can't go sacrificing Buveur D'Air every day.
"There must be lots of improvement in him. His weight was good. He wasn't a million pounds heavier than he should be.
"If he was going to get beaten, today was the day. He will get beaten one day but he was more vulnerable today.
"Good horses are going to turn up at Cheltenham and take him on, but hopefully we can go there happy if all goes well between now and then."
With only three runners Sam Twiston-Davies allowed Politologue to bowl along in front, with De Boinville happy to sit in behind aboard Altior.
Twiston-Davies did his best to run the finish out of his main rival, kicking for home from the final bend, but Altior's class shone through in the end as he coasted by after the final fence to score readily.
Politologue was a clear second, while Valdez finished last of the three runners after showing some promise on his first competitive appearance in over three years.
De Boinville said: "He felt fantastic there. That ground would be softer than ideal, but he's handled it well and I couldn't hear any noises or anything like that. "It was a big effort from the yard to get him back for today. It's probably come a bit earlier than we wanted, so all credit to the guv'nor (Henderson) and Toby Lawes, who rides him every day at home.
"We knew coming in here that he was very fresh and very well and we haven't been able to do much because the ground has been so frosty this week, but he was very good there."
After the race Twiston-Davies labelled Altior a freak, and it was no surprised to hear Paul Nicholls resigned to the fact that Politologue would be scrapping for second place at Prestbury Park.
He said: "He ran really well and was beat by a better horse on the day. I would say the winner will be hard to beat at Cheltenham.
"Of course he (Politologue) will improve, but the winner will improve so that cancels that out.
"The only thing is when he ran in the Tingle Creek and they went flat out and he got a good gallop, that suits him better than being in front. The faster they go, the better for him.
"I think whatever way we'd done it, we weren't going to beat the winner today. It will take a fair horse to beat him at Cheltenham.
"We will still go as lots can happen in racing and Cheltenham is a different day on different ground on a different track."
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