NICKY HENDERSON says Altior must win today’s Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy in style to justify his own high hopes about a horse that has already been compared to the now retired Sprinter Sacre.
The winner of last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle, the Patricia Pugh-owned gelding is unbeaten from three starts over fences, including’s victory over the classy Charbel in Sandown’s Grade One Henry VIII Novices Chase last December.
A facile success in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month confirmed Altior’s wellbeing for today’s date with destiny.
“Everything has gone how we wanted it to go. The form book says, yes, he should win, but they still have to go and jump round, as all sorts of things can happen,” said Henderson last night.
“Only a good performance will satisfy everybody, as he is expected to win. It might sound like a good position to be in, but it is not that easy. You would nearly rather be hopeful that they can win, rather than thinking they have to win.”
While Kim Bailey acknowledges Charbel, who has not been seen since chasing home Altior at Sandown in December, faces a tough task in reversing the form with the new star of Seven Barrows, he feels the winter break will have served his six-year-old well.
This is a horse that caught the eye when winning last October’s Kalahari King Chase at Uttoxeter under David Bass.
“It’s disappointing we have to take on Altior, but someone has to. I’m happy with the horse and he goes there fresh, which will certainly help him,” said Bailey.
Brian Ellison feels the ground has come right in time for Forest Bihan, who will be attempting to make it four wins from five starts over fences and follow up his victory in that Grade Two contest at Doncaster.
The Malton trainer said: “The ground has come right for him. Like everyone else we have got it all to do against Altior, but hopefully he will run well.”
Meanwhile the same sentiments apply to Cloudy Dream who is one of three runners on the day for Ellison’s local rival Malcolm Jefferson who also saddles Champion Hurdle contender Cyris Darius and it will be disappointing if Double W’s does not go close in the concluding novice chase.
Willie Mullins is banking on Melon’s ability making up for his inexperience in the curtain-raising Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
While no horse has won the Supreme off the back of just one run over hurdles since Flown struck gold in 1992, Mullins’ enthusiasm for Melon is infectious.
“Melon is a horse with plenty of ability who jumps well. He’s a fine, strong, tall horse who has the ability but doesn’t have the experience,” said the County Carlow maestro. “The form in the two-mile division is not as strong as other years.”