Altior stretched his unbeaten run over obstacles to 17 with a routine success in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
Nicky Henderson’s brilliant two-mile chaser made every yard of the running, despite jumping left at several fences, to beat two rivals and justify odds of 1/10 favourite and score by seven lengths from Fox Norton.
Nico De Boinville never showed any anxiety in the saddle and having gone 10 lengths clear before the turn for home, he had proceedings under complete control.
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Fox Norton was second throughout and ran a nice race on his return to action, having been off the track for over a year, but was well adrift of the eased-down winner at the line.
Altior remains unchanged at 2/5 with GentingBet for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on March 13.
Despite jumping left, Henderson was unconcerned. He said: “It’s the sort of thing you see horses do around here.
“He doesn’t need to go left, but we know he’s so much better at Cheltenham. He had to go and do his own thing, and we knew he’d have to make the running. If something came to him, I think he’d have gone again – he was idling a bit.
“Yes, he did drift left. But it’s not his natural thing – he’ll be going left (handed at Cheltenham) next time.”
Altior has put himself on course to equal the all-time record of 18 successive victories over jumps by Big Buck’s, in defence of his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown.
Henderson said: “You are getting to an extraordinary sequence if you like, that he is building up. We know where we are going next, and he won’t run again before Cheltenham – that’s why I rather wanted to do it this way. There are two Grade Ones and a Grade Two along the way – take that, then freshen up for Cheltenham – because that is the main objective, and we can decide what we do after that.”
Meanwhile, Henderson has given dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air the green light to contest next month’s Contenders Hurdle at Sandown.
The Seven Barrows handler had issued a warning that Buveur D’Air may miss his traditional warm-up for Cheltenham after returning slightly stiff from his shock defeat in the Christmas Hurdle to stablemate Verdana Blue.
However, a good gallop on Saturday morning allayed any fears he was still feeling the issue.
“He was in great form this morning, absolutely super,” said Henderson. “He is heading for the Contenders, and that is the plan. If he doesn’t go to the Contenders, he doesn,t go anywhere, and I am then going to have to gallop him at home. At least he might as well go have a gallop on the racecourse at Sandown.”
Buveur D’Air is currently the 11/8 favourite for the Champion Hurdle with GentingBet.
Stablemate Brain Power could now head straight to the same race after being forced to miss an intended outing at Haydock this weekend because his scope was not quite right.
Brain Power is a 16/1 chance with GentingBet and Henderson added: “I don’t know that he needs a run, and I can’t think Wincanton is a great place for him. I wouldn’t be worried if he didn’t run anywhere, because a lot of these horses will have racecourse gallops.”