Altior’s participation in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day has been subject to much debate. After the horse won the Champion Chase for the second time at Cheltenham in March, trainer Nicky Henderson hinted that he might take the longer distance route. The speculation will now seem pointless because a flat gallop at home means the horse is unlikely to run in the King George. The trainer could even abandon the project and return to the two-mile division.
Altior has been the champion horse over two miles and 12 obstacles for the last two seasons. He has nothing to prove at that distance and Henderson was keen to see if he could go further. The writing about the King George was on the wall when Cyrname beat Altior over two miles and five furlongs at Ascot last month. A minor setback could diplomatically mean the absence of Altior in the King George. The current ante-post betting favourite is Lostintranslation at +187.5 with online bookmakers.
Lostintranslation is the only horse that can claim the £1 million bonus for winning the three most prestigious chases of the season. He won the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November and the King George is the second leg. The Cheltenham Gold Cup in the third race. No horse has won the bonus, but Kauto Star won all three races in the 2006/07 season when the prize wasn’t on the table.
Lostintranslation is trained by Colin Tizzard, who prepared Cue Card when connections just missed out on the £1 million. Cue Card won the Betfair Chase and King George in 2015 but could not complete the treble at Cheltenham the following March. The horse was going well but fell four fences from home in a race won by Don Cossack.
Last season three different horses won the three steeplechases that matter most. Lostintranslation’s biggest threat will be Cyrname, which is the highest-rated chaser in training. Kempton suits Cyrname better than Lostintranslation, so the bonus attempt could be thwarted.
The clash between Cyrname and Lostintranslation will be the race of the season to date, but Altior will probably not be an added ingredient. Henderson said in the Racing Post about Altior’s work at home:
“It wasn’t as if he didn’t work well, it was satisfactory and he worked well with two very good horses. Nico (de Boinville, the jockey) said he felt a little flat and wasn’t showing his normal mojo. We are saying the King George is highly unlikely. However, it’s not the end of the three-mile plan.”
Certainly the horse is at a crossroads and the safe option is going back to two miles and trying to become just the second horse to win three Champion Chases. The more ambitious option is to put the horse in a Grade 1 chase over the longer distance, which basically means the Gold Cup. However, Altior was well beaten by Cyrname at Ascot and will struggle to reverse the form over an extra three furlongs. Bet on the horse staying over two miles.