Moment of truth for Altior
Nicky Henderson is very close to finding out if the wind operation that Altior underwent late last year has had the desired effect on the unbeaten jumping sensation.
Winner of the 2016 Supreme Novices' Hurdle and last season's Racing Post Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival, Altior has a perfect record from 11 starts over obstacles after winning one of three bumpers he contested.
He was set to make his seasonal debut in the Tingle Creek at Sandown but Henderson detected a noise coming from the eight-year-old's breathing and decided instead to opt for the wind operation.
That leaves Altior, 4/6 to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March, racing against the clock to be ready for the Cotswolds.
With his work at home in Seven Barrows now going up through the gears, the champion trainer admits he is very close to discovering if the procedure has worked.
"Altior's really good and I'm very happy," Henderson said. "He'll be stepping up this weekend, to the point where I suspect I'll nearly know whether I'll hear a noise.
"He'd never made a noise before and wouldn't be making a noise where he is now, but we're nearly getting to the point where he was making one [in November]."
Henderson has suggested he'd be happy to go straight to Cheltenham without a run, but he is also considering the Betfair Exchange Chase (Game Spirit) next month at Newbury, a race Altior won impressively as a novice last season.
That race comes up on 10th February and, racing or otherwise, Altior is likely to be there to strut his stuff as Henderson wants some work at the track if not a race.
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"Newbury could easily still be on the agenda. No promises, but one thing I would think he'd be doing is coming here for a gallop because he's probably going to need two racecourse gallops and the timing would be perfect for the first one," the trainer added.
Politologue, winner of the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase already this season, is 4/1 to give Paul Nicholls another Queen Mother Champion Chase success while Willie Mullins could land the race for the first time with 7/2 chance Yorkhill.