By Andy Stephens at Lambourn
Altior worked zestfully over ten furlongs on the Seven Barrows gallops in the morning and looked a picture of good health when paraded before members of the media but is likely to face a serious examination at the weekend.
The race sponsors quote him at 8-13 for what will be his first start for 287 days. His potential rivals in the Betfair Exchange Chase could include Politologue, chalked up at 11-4, and Fox Norton, who is 3-1.
“He can go through life unbeaten, but it’s unlikely and I suppose this is the time he is going to be at his most vulnerable but in the interest of trying to win the Champion Chase (at Cheltenham next month) I think it’s good for him to have a run,” the four-time champion trainer said.
“You’ve got to be realistic and if he gets beaten he gets beaten - he’s going to get beaten one beaten one day. I hope he doesn’t and I’m not being down on him because his work is fantastic, his wind is fantastic and his jumping is fantastic.
“He’s telling us he’s in tremendous shape but he’s coming into a competitive race against racefit horses. I’d buy another week (before running him).”
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Henderson says he has never had a horse work better than Altior - even Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig in their heyday when they would gallop together - and the eight-year-old thrilled him in a schooling session last week.
However, the trainer’s hopes of giving him a similar workout before Saturday have been thwarted by frosty conditions at his base in Lambourn.
“He schooled last week and was fantastic, but he was almost too fantastic,” the 67-year-old said. “I’d like to do it again to take the freshness out of him. He was too quick, too eager to go and murder them.
“The danger is because he’s so talented the work is too easy for him. It’s frightening how easy he finds it. We are lucky, we have a lot of good horses (to work him with) but he can chew them up a bit.”
Altior is likely to have one more run after Cheltenham with Henderson having no interest in extending his campaign to incorporate races in France in the summer.
“A lot of big prizes have gone by while we’ve been out of action, which is boring but there are a lot of good prizes still to come,” he said.
In Altior's absence, the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue has been the star of the two-mile chasing division this season, winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, beating Fox Norton in the Tingle Creek and dominating in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.
Saint Calvados has won his past two starts at Newbury for Harry Whittington and has been given the option, but will instead head for the Kingmaker at Warwick against fellow novices.
"He'll run in the Kingmaker," Harry Whittington, his trainer, said. "We just made the other entry in case Warwick was off and the big guns weren't going to run for any reason."
Gary Moore's Traffic Fluide, Harry Fry's Overtown Express and Alan King's Valdez, who has been off the track for over three years, complete the entries.
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