Altior enhances Arkle prospects
Arkle Trophy favourite Altior is set to head to Kempton at Christmas after recording his first Grade One success since his switch to fences with victory in the Racing Post Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown.
Altior stamped his class on the small field at Sandown
Unbeaten in five outings over the smaller obstacles, culminating in a seven-length success from Min in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, Nicky Henderson's star was the 2/7 favourite against three useful rivals and backed up his fencing debut success in a two-runner affair at Kempton with aplomb.
Marracudja set a good pace with Charbel never far away before challenging for the lead from out, while Altior tracked the front pair and took closer order for Noel Fehily as Charbel went on at the second-last.
Henderson's burgeoning ace ranged alongside and jumped the final fence better than his main rival, quickly pulling quickly clear to score by an ultimately stylish six lengths.
Henderson said: "Apart from one great, massive 'yahoo' launch down the back, I thought he was very good. These are the things that we have got to iron out.
"He cantered round Kempton, but he could do that at home. Coming here was a tricky test for him, he thought about it and worked into it. We knew we'd get a lot of pace, although I'm not sure if they went that quick.
"He's very classy. We ummed and ahhed about whether to stay hurdling or go chasing with him. I still say we're down the right route, but he would still be a Champion Hurdle horse if you wanted.
"Noel says he has so much scope, that's why we are chasing not hurdling.
"I think Kempton at Christmas would be the obvious place to go next and then regroup after that."
He went on: "He's got serious gears. He's got the scope, the brains and the feet – everything is there to nurture.
"He's a very good horse, and I think we'd go to Kempton next, then regroup. After he won at Kempton last year he went straight to Cheltenham and we could do that again.
"Although I wouldn't throw out the Game Spirit. I won't deny in the back of my mind that he can ever be what Sprinter Sacre was, but he is capable of going all the way.
"Yes, he can win an Arkle and a Champion Chase, but then the world becomes more difficult."
Fehily said: "I thought he was very good in the second half of the race, he launched at the ditch the first time and he launched at one down the back, but I spent so much time trying to switch him off that maybe I might have let him go a bit cold on me.
"When I switched him back on he jumped great the second half. I was most impressed with him going to the last, I was a length down, he winged it and in two strides he was three lengths clear.
"I thought it was very impressive."
Sky Bet trimmed the winner to 7/4 from 2/1 for the Arkle at the Festival in March and representative Michael Shinners said: "We know all about the class of Altior but connections must be really encouraged by the way he's warming to the task over fences and, given his Cheltenham record, he's obviously the one to beat in the Arkle."