De Boinville: Altior has the Spirit
Views from connections ahead of the Betfair Exchange Chase (registered as the Game Spirit) at Newbury on Saturday.
Altior goes for the Game Spirit
After over three months on the sidelines with a broken arm, Nico de Boinville counts any day in the saddle as a good one, but afternoons when he gets to partner Altior are special.
Already a Cheltenham Festival winner after blitzing his rivals who included Min, Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D'Air and dual Grade One winner Petit Mouchoir in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season, Altior has been almost flawless in three runs over fences.
Comparisons have not surprisingly been drawn between him and former stablemate Sprinter Sacre, and they intensified when Henderson nominated this Betfair Exchange Chase, better known as the Game Spirit, as Altior's next target.
The Seven Barrows handler also ran Sprinter Sacre in this as a novice and what he went on to achieve was the stuff of dreams.
"Altior is in great form, his schooling has gone well and he's working well – I'm very much looking forward to riding him in a race again," said De Boinville.
"When you've been out injured for a long time, every day you go racing is a good day, so I'm just glad to get back on him.
"He's been very impressive so far this season for Noel Fehily and I'm just lucky the owners have decided to go back to me when they could easily have stuck with Noel."
Another of Henderson's big Cheltenham hopes, Might Bite, won by a distance at Doncaster on Thursday but the trainer is not anticipating anything remotely similar.
"Everything is well with Altior, we're looking forward to it," he said.
"It would be nice if it was similar to Might Bite at Doncaster, but I can't quite see that somehow!"
Assistant trainer Toby Lawes is expecting Altior to have his first "proper" race of the season.
"It will be a good race with Fox Norton in it. It will be a proper test and his first one over fences," said Lawes.
"Hopefully the ground isn't too dead and hopefully he can have a good run around which will put him on track for Cheltenham.
"He's just got so much natural speed, he's got the gears, and so much scope for jumping. He's just a really natural chaser, which is all you can ask for.
"Over the summer he grew and got stronger and has continued to do so."
Fox Norton has been a revelation this season, winning first time out for Neil Mulholland at Cheltenham in October which prompted his purchase by Ann and Alan Potts, who then sent him to Colin Tizzard.
His progress was halted by an injury he picked up after winning the Shloer Chase back at Prestbury Park in November.
"We've all seen Altior and he looks fantastic," said Tizzard.
"Fox Norton cut a leg when he won at Cheltenham. It was quite a bad cut and it took time to heal. For a month he didn't do anything and we've gradually got him back and he's good enough to run his race.
"He would need a race before he goes to Cheltenham and this was the obvious race to go for.
"We didn't really need to get a race in, but we are going to. If we get to Cheltenham and we didn't take a race in and he was a bit ring-rusty there, we'd have said we should have done.
"For these big championship races, you have to be on your game and one run should put him right."
Former two-mile champion Dodging Bullets has been a shadow of his former self so far this season, with champion trainer Paul Nicholls floating the idea of a drop into handicap company at Cheltenham.
Nicholls said: "He is obviously not the horse he was. He was fourth the other day at Cheltenham.
"He is a funny horse, he did well over hurdles but was never a star. The first season he went novice chasing he was placed fourth in an Arkle, but the year after that, for whatever reason, he just won those three Grade One races.
"He got to a level he has not achieved before or since. Sometimes horses do do that, but he looks great, there are no physical problems with him.
"He will run on Saturday as he is hard to place now, but I suspect at Cheltenham he will end up running in the Grand Annual. He has been a grand horse and is a Champion Chase winner, but on form he is not the horse he was."
Traffic Fluide's talent has never been in doubt, but he only ran once last term, finishing third behind Un De Sceaux in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, and has been off the track again since.
"I'm very pleased with him. It's so far so good," said trainer Gary Moore.
"He worked on Tuesday morning and it went very well."
Gino Trail is the last of the five declared runners, but his first preference is the Betway Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick.