Things We Learned » Altior dimension

Altior dimension

It makes sense that Altior’s price for the Champion Chase was trimmed on the back of his victory in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

True, Nicky Henderson’s horse didn’t do anything more than we knew he was capable of doing.  And he did it in Altior’s style, a style to which we have grown accustomed.  He hit the flat spot that is now part of his make up, and he picked up when his turbo kicked in, as it always does, over two miles anyway.  He was rated 12lb superior to his highest-rated rival in Saturday’s race, and he was a 1/3 shot.  When a 1/3 shot wins, by definition, it is not an unexpected occurrence. 

That said, if you were thinking on Saturday morning of the 2018 and 2019 Champion Chase winner as the 2020 Champion Chase winner, you can think about him in those terms now with more confidence than you could then.  The last time we saw Altior race, he suffered his first defeat over obstacles.  He was racing over two miles and five furlongs that day, and he finished his race a tired horse.  He had missed a couple of engagements in the interim, and his objective had changed, from King George to Champion Chase.

It’s easy in hindsight of course, given that it didn’t work – and fair play for giving it a go – but the King George project was a project in which connections didn’t really need to engage.  True, Altior had been racing over two miles as though he could get further, as if he could even improve for stepping up in trip, and it’s always exciting when you try something different. 

Moreover, a Champion Chase winner who can win a King George is a rarity.  Superstar two-milers have tried and failed, Remittance Man, Azertyuiop, Sizing Europe, although it was the weather rather than a lack of stamina that scuppered Sizing Europe’s bid. 

Edredon Bleu won both races, One Man won both, in reverse. 

Three Champion Chases, though, is arguably more noteworthy than two Champion Chases and a King George.  Certainly, horses who have won three Champion Chases have a greater rarity value than horses who have won a Champion Chase and a King George.  

The list of horses who have won two Champion Chases is long: Fortria, Drinny’s Double, Royal Relief, Skymas, Hilly Way, Pearlyman, Barnbrook Again, Viking Flagship, Moscow Flyer, Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre.  Add Altior.  But the list of horses who have won three is very short.  Only Badsworth Boy is on that list.

Altior is 10 now but, unlike the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle, recent history tells you that you can win the Champion Chase as a 10-year-old.  No 10-year-old has won the Gold Cup in 22 years, and you have to go back to Sea Pigeon in 1981 to find the last horse aged in double figures to win the Champion Hurdle.  By contrast, there have been five Champion Chase winners aged older than nine since 1997.

You can argue that Altior should not be favourite for the 2020 Champion Chase, that he shouldn’t be in front of Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi in the betting.  But in a race that is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the Festival, a reigning champion who is bidding for a hat-trick, and who is in form, adds a fascinating dimension.

Honeysuckle call

The Honeysuckle call is not an easy call.  Champion Hurdle or Mares’ Hurdle?

It looked like Mares’ Hurdle all right, but now Klassical Dream and Saldier are both sadly out of the Champion Hurdle.  The list of Champion Hurdle defectors continues to grow.

If you ran well and finished third in the Champion Hurdle, would you kick yourself for not running in the Mares’ Hurdle?  And if you won the Mares’ Hurdle by six lengths, would you kick yourself for not having a go at the Champion?  And which scenario would be the easier one to deal with?

Probably the latter, as you would be a Cheltenham Festival winner in the latter scenario.

Or do you just play to your horse’s strengths, two and a half miles, without considering what else shows up in either race?

Then there is the Benie Des Dieux factor.  If you were beaten a neck by Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle, would you wonder how you would have fared in the Champion? 

Weights announcement

The announcement of the Grand National weights arrived again this year, as they usually do at this time of year.  Like the daffodil.  It is a perennial thing. 

The announcement majored on the usuals: the compression of the weights, the Aintree factor, the Tiger Roll factor (new this year). 

Is the Aintree factor not already included in the rating when that rating has been awarded because of a performance at Aintree?

The pre-occupation with the number of horses who are in the handicap proper.  Apparently, Delta Work was given a rating of 170 in order to allow as many horses into the handicap as possible.  It’s largely irrelevant anyway, because those at the bottom are unlikely to get in.  Last year the bottom weight was 10st 2lb.  And if you want even more horses to get into the handicap, you can compress the weights more.  It’s your prerogative.  If you had given Delta Work and Tiger Roll 169 instead of 170, you would have got seven more horses into the handicap.  If you had given them 168, you would have got 13 more in.

And the most important piece of information was buried in the small print, the fact that Tiger Roll is not qualified for the race.  Really.  He isn’t.  Not yet.  A dual winner, the title-holder, who is on the brink of an achievement that is without precedent.

It would be like Novak Djokovic excluded from Wimbledon 2020 because he hasn’t played a five-set match on grass this year. 

Hope Springs

The Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle remains a hugely significant pointer to the Triumph Hurdle.

Spring Juvenile Hurdle runners in the last 10 years who went on to win the Triumph Hurdle: Farclas (2nd in the Spring Hurdle), Ivanovich Gorbatov (4th), Our Conor (1st), Countrywide Flame (3rd). 

Spring Juvenile Hurdle winners who went on to contest the Triumph Hurdle:

Sir Erec (pulled up in the Triumph Hurdle), Mr Adjudicator (2nd), Mega Fortune (2nd), Footpad (3rd), Petite Parisienne (5th), Guitar Pete (3rd), Our Conor (1st), Hisaabaat (2nd), Unaccompanied (2nd).

So, if they run in the race, be sure to include A Wave Of The Sea and Cerberus and Aspire Tower and Wolf Prince in your Triumph Hurdle calculations.

© The Irish Field, 15th February 2020