Will he live up to his headline billing in one of the season’s great two-mile chases? He’s a best-priced 4-5, suggesting that bookmakers make it something of a toss-of-a-coin job for punters.
Below are five reasons why he will again have his fan club in raptures, and five why he will return to his box in Seven Barrows defeated.
Altior has had 21 races over hurdles or fences and been beaten only once. How do you like these form figures? 111111111111111111121.
That solitary stain on his record (if you can call it that) was when stepped up to 2m4f for the first time, and when up against Cyrname at that horse’s beloved Ascot on his first run last season.
Nicky Henderson still berates himself for running his star that day. And listening to him on Zoom this afternoon, you sense he always will.
Altior has never lost over 2m over obstacles and ten of his wins have been in Grade One company.
According to the official handicap ratings, Altior has between 3lb and 24lb in hand of his seven potential rivals.
The only horse in the field rated within half a stone of him is Politologue, and he has been beaten by Altior the three previous times that they have met. Timeform reckon the gulf between them is 7lb.
If the number crunchers are right, then Altior could run below his very best and still win.
Watch a full replay of the 2018 Tingle Creek - one of five Grade One wins for Altior at Sandown
Altior has four Cheltenham Festival victories on his CV but has been even more prolific at Sandown, winning on each of his five previous visits – all in Grade One races.
The Esher track certainly plays to his strengths. It presents a great test of jumping – Altior is a superb leaper who has rarely made a semblance of an error in jumping 210 fences – and the stiff uphill finish is perfect as he’s a strong stayer at the trip.
He won the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at this meeting in 2016, plus the Tingle Creek in. 2018 when he mastered Un De Sceaux. He has also won the past three renewals of the Celebration Chase, run each April.
They say the best go any ground and it’s certainly applicable to Altior.
Since making his racecourse debut in May 2014, he has raced on just about every surface imaginable without it seeming to make any difference to him.
Officially, he has never run on heavy ground, although Timeform assessed it as being that when he won the Tingle Creek two years later.
The rain forecast for Thursday, and possible snow showers on Friday, will be water off a duck’s back to him. And snow, too.
Like all great champions, Altior has invariably found a way to get the job done even when not at his sublime best. The exception was that one reverse at the hands of Cyrname, the highest-rated chaser in training.
He was on the ropes in the 2018 Champion Chase, only to end up pummelling the opposition. He also looked in trouble 12 months later, but again found a knockout punch near the finish to eventually win with a bit to spare.
Any horse who has the audacity to eyeball him, usually comes off second best.
The Tingle Creek was first run in 1979 and since that time just one horse older than nine, Moscow Flyer who was ten in 2004, has been successful.
If you scoff at that stat, then just look at some of the brilliant horses who have been beaten in the race when they were 10 or older.
Since 1988, those vanquished reads: Desert Orchid (twice), Sabin Du Loir, Prideaux Boy, Barnbrook Again, Waterloo Boy, Storm Alert, Viking Flagship, Well Chief, Somersby (twice); Sire De Grugy and Un De Sceaux (twice).
Most of them were well-fancied and ran well, but each found younger legs just too quick for them.
Altior has not run for 302 days.
I’m sure the pundits will make reference to the fact that he goes well fresh and it cannot be disputed that he has won first time out in five of his seven campaigns.
But like any ageing athlete he is entitled to be a bit rusty and take a little longer to reach his peak. Did we detect that in his gallop with Epatante at Newbury this month, when he was bustled along as the mare cruised upsides him? That is probably stretching it.
This will be the longest break he has ever returned from, whereas four of his five (younger) rivals have already been in action this term.
Altior was beaten on his return last season and the campaign before that, when winning this race, his principal rival, Un De Sceaux, was also making his return. When reappearing the season before, Altior had two rivals to beat and was 1-3. And the season before that he had just one rival to beat and was 2-13.
Altior and Epatante galloped together over 12f at Newbury this month
As cars get older, little problems or issues can be a recurring problem.
It can be the same with horses. Wear and tear can take its toll and the engine perhaps not what it was.
After his comeback defeat last season, numerous next races were suggested for Altior but he missed them all for one reason or another.
The King George, Desert Orchid, Silviniaco Conti and Clarence House all passed by without him showing up. When he eventually did return, not everyone was convinced by the manner of the way he dispatched Sceau Royal and Dynamite Dollars. The handicapper responded by dropping him from 175 to 172 – the first time he had eased him in the weights since March 2017.
Nicky Henderson was very positive about Altior's wellbeing in the Zoom call staged by Great British Racing Club today but we won’t really know if his powers are on the wane until the heat of battle.
Serial champion trainer Paul Nicholls has landed the Tingle Creek a record ten times and will field two significant dangers to Altior in Politologue and Greaneteen.
Politologue has come off second best in three previous encounters with Altior but finished less than two lengths behind him when they last crossed swords in the 2019 Champion Chase.
It could reasonably be argued that Sandown suits the grey better than Cheltenham and he did scoop this prize in 2017. He won’t be short of fitness – his preparation including an away day gallop with Clan Des Obeaux – and he invariably gives his running. On official figures, he has just 3lb to find.
Greaneteen is the new kid on the block, landing the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last time on what was only his fifth race over fences. This is a big step up in class for him but who knows where the ceiling of his ability is?
The fact that Nicholls is happy to run him in such deep waters is a tip in itself.
If we knew Altior was going to be anywhere near his best, then he would be almost invincible and long odds-on.
The bookmakers rarely offer gifts and their compilers seem united in believing this is going to be anything other than an extended lap of honour.
Why else would they make him a general 4-5?
In 16 previous races over fences, Altior has only once been returned at a bigger price – when Evens for the 2018 Champion Chase. That day he was up against such as Douvan, Min and Politologue.
There’s no Douvan or Min to worry about this time, or Chacun Pour Soi or Defi Du Seuil for that matter. But the layers are still content to dangle a carrot.
I can see both side of the argument but would rather be with Altior than against him.
The record of horses aged ten or older in the race is a niggle – plenty of good ones have tried and failed – but there’s no evidence to suggest he’s not the force he once was and he can prove an exception to the rule.Click here to claim your FREE Racing TV Christmas Jumper!
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