Newbury ground 'the biggest concern' for Nicky Henderson as Altior returns

Saturday, Feb 10 2018

Ground conditions are Nicky Henderson's main concern ahead of Altior's long-awaited return in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

A dual Cheltenham Festival winner after landing the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy, the eight-year-old is unbeaten in 11 starts over jumps and is a hot favourite to claim glory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Altior has not been seen in competitive action so far this season after a breathing problem was discovered during his preparation for the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.

But that issue was rectified by a wind operation and Henderson is looking forward to getting him back on the racecourse, even if he is nervous about the prospect of testing terrain.

Speaking at Kempton on Friday, Henderson said: " The ground is obviously the biggest concern, but this time last year we were umming and ahhing whether to run him in the race because of the ground and we had a sleepless night. We so nearly didn't run him then but he was perfectly all right.

"We had a lot of rain last night. Newbury had a fair bit. They've got the covers on and it is going to freeze tonight. It could be horrible ground. Of course that is a worry as he is such a talented horse and better horses go on better ground.

"This is all about the Queen Mother, not about tomorrow. He has got to have a run and if I can, we will run. We have every intention of running.

"This is important and he has never been beaten (over jumps), but he has got to get beaten one day.

"He is very good but he has got a long way to go yet. We have had no hiccups and everything has gone according to plan except for the rain."

Altior will have to be on his game if he is to make a successful reappearance in a race better known as the Game Spirit, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue a more-than-worthy opponent.

In Altior's absence, the seven-year-old grey has been the star of the two-mile chasing division this season, winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

Owner John Hales said: "Whatever happens on Saturday won't necessarily happen at the Festival because it will be on a different day on a different track and different ground.

"Obviously Altior is a very good horse, he's unbeaten over fences and is a fantastic horse - it will be some race."

With Colin Tizzard's Fox Norton a notable absentee, the three-runner field is completed by the long-absent Valdez.

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