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Altior report

Altior was sent off at 1/10 for the Grade 1 Matchbook Clarence House Chase at Ascot yesterday, and he duly won like a 1/10 shot should win: easily and effortlessly from the front.  No dramatics.

In so doing, the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding further enhanced his reputation and his unblemished record over jumps.  That’s 17 runs now and 17 wins, five over hurdles and 12 over fences.  Another milestone.  Patricia Pugh’s horse hasn’t been beaten since he finished sixth behind Bellshill in the Champion Bumper at the Punchestown Festival in April 2015.

The High Chaparral gelding does not usually make the running, he tends to like to sit just behind the pace but, with just two rivals in yesterday’s race, and with neither of them apparently overly keen to lead from flagfall, Nico de Boinville just allowed his horse stride on.

“He could have done with a lead,” said the rider.  “There was no point in getting stuck behind anything though.  It was the first time that he’s made the running for a long time, and he was just having a look around.”

Altior’s round of jumping was not perfect.  If you were looking for flaws, you would point to the fact that he moved to his left at several of his obstacles, most markedly at the final open ditch.  Fox Norton narrowed the gap a little at that point but, in truth, those brave souls who bet the 10 to win the one never really had any cause for concern.

About 10 lengths clear of his closest rival as they straightened up for home with two fences to jump, Altior still had seven lengths in hand by the time he reached the winning line, eased down.  It was all very straightforward.  It was all very easy.

“Nobody expected anything else really,” said Nicky Henderson.   “But it’s always a relief when it’s over.  Now we move on.  He won’t run again before Cheltenham.  We’re not going to go to Newbury for the Game Spirit.  There’s no need to. That’s the first part of the season over, so we can afford to take a little pull now. Unbeaten runs are horrible in a way, because you know they’ve got to come to an end sooner or later.  But it’s great while it lasts, and our job is to keep the ball rolling, make sure he gets to these events in the right frame of mind and healthy.”

Colin Tizzard was justifiably happy with the performance that Fox Norton put up to chase Altior home, 34 lengths clear of his other rival, Diego Du Charmil.  It was the Lando gelding’s first run in over a year, since he was pulled up in the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December 2017.  While it never looked like he was going to trouble Altior, the 2017 Champion Chase runner-up put up a highly satisfactory performance on his return to the fray.

“That was a lovely start back,” said Tizzard.  “We’ll hopefully go to Newbury for the Game Spirit Chase, and then we’ll have to decide whether to take on Altior again (in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham) or go for the Ryanair Chase.”

When Altior lines up in the Champion Chase in March, all going well, he will be bidding to win his 18th race in a row, thereby equalling the record that Big Buck’s set between January 2009 and December 2012.  And that would be yet another milestone.

© The Sunday Times, 20th January 2019