NICKY HENDERSON has defended the Matchbook Clarence House Chase after just two horses stepped forward to take on Altior in tomorrow’s Ascot contest.

Fox Norton and Diego Du Charmil stood their ground for the Grade 1 thriller but Un De Sceaux – winner of the race for the last three years – was not declared.

 Altior is the 1-8 favourite for the Clarence House

PA:Press Association

Altior is the 1-8 favourite for the Clarence House

It leaves Altior what looks like a straightforward task to pocket the £150,000 prize as he attempts to notch up an astonishing 17th successive victory.

Henderson admitted he would love to see the sponsors rewarded with a bigger field but underlined the importance of the race in the calendar.

He said: “We have to have these races. There has to be a route for the top horses to take to the top races.

“I know this used to be a handicap. Isio beat Azertyuiop in one of the great races, admittedly we were getting about a stone and a half or something like that, but it made it a fantastic race.

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“The last thing I’m going to say is bring it back to a handicap because what do you then do with horses like Altior?

“It’s a pity when they do cut up like this but it is a funny time of the year.”

Showers are forecast tonight and tomorrow morning so conditions are likely to be ideal at Ascot.

It just looks likes Altior has frightened off much of the opposition as his trainer plots his course to a defence of his Champion Chase crown.

Henderson added: “He loves good ground.

“We slightly changed our plan this year having gone for the Tingle Creek, the Desert Orchid and Saturday’s race. We’ve let him have three runs then we can freshen him up going into Cheltenham.”

Fox Norton will have his first run since last season’s King George. A leg injury kept him out of action after Christmas 12 months ago.

Trainer Colin Tizzard said: “We need to get him out racing.

“We’ve seen before he needs a run or two to take on the likes of Altior. He can’t turn up at Cheltenham with no runs so we have to start somewhere.

“He’s been out twice a day. We’ve got him fit but it is match practice he needs.”

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