ALTIOR IS NOT KING GEORGE MATERIAL
News on Saturday broke that Nicky Henderson’s stable star Altior would tackle the 2019 King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. In his Unibet blog, Henderson said, “(Owners) Patricia and Chris Pugh came down to the yard this week and saw Altior on the gallops and after plenty of input from everyone, we have decided that we are going to go down the King George route, therefore the obvious race to start in is the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on November 23.”
For the race and Kempton, this is huge news and similar thoughts can be echoed for Ascot’s Christy 1965 Chase, where a clash with Cyrname, officially rated higher than Altior, may transpire. Racing fans will also be licking their lips in anticipation of November 23rd and December 26th, with many itching to see the nine-year-old up in distance proper, tackling one of National Hunt’s most prestigious prizes, the King George.
While I too have been looking forward to seeing Altior compete over two-and-a-half miles, the King George trip of three is a significantly different test, especially when you consider we have yet to see the gelding even tackle an intermediate distance.
At the moment, we are totally in the dark with regards the son of High Chaparral staying, and under these circumstances one has to admire the game and brave call by connections in taking their pride and joy out of his usual comfort zone. It’s hugely sporting and as his current ante-post odds of 3/1 suggest, this won’t be Altior’s usual penalty kick at long odds-on.
So what about three miles for the two-time Champion Chaser? Will he stay? Is there any evidence to suggest he will? While you have to stay grounded given we are essentially guessing, I would say little points to Altior being as good over three miles than he is over two, based on common sense from the evidence we know.
First of all, and fundamentally, Altior is a quick horse. He competes over the shortest distance available to older National Hunt horses and is essentially the best and fastest horse in that division over the last two seasons. Not only he is quick on the track, but at home, too. Nicky Henderson has often said so publicly; his quote about Brain Power being the only horse at Seven Barrows that can go with Altior sticks out.
How Altior races and jumps would also concern me in not giving himself the best chance of seeing out three miles. He is an exuberant traveller and jumper when in top form, and while these qualities suit two-mile chasing, over staying trips those characteristics will tap into energy reserves. In jumping 13 fences in a Champion Chase, in the King George Altior will need to jump five more, and I can see all this adding up.
Altior also developed a habit of jumping to his left in races last season, especially in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. This trait could also be seen in his Desert Orchid victory at the track where the King George will be run. With Kempton being a right-handed course, this is a small concern and just another variable that could ebb away at his stamina.
When assessing horses stepping up in trip in day-to-day form study, pedigree analysis is often a good tool in helping make an informed decision. By High Chaparral, on this side of his pedigree Altior is given hope with the now deceased stallion producing quality jumps stayers like Caracci Apache, Hadrian's Approach, Tower Bridge et al.
However, Altior’s dam, Monte Solaro was a lowly-rated handicap hurdler who won off 96 over 2m 1f at Tramore and finished a close-up fifth over two-and-a-mile miles off 99. She was by Key Of Luck, who was a high class performer at 8-10f on dirt. Her dam, Monte Solaro, was a 7-8f handicapper.
Monte Solaro, as a dam herself has produced six horses that have made the track, including Altior. Three others, Princess Leya (by Old Vic), Silverhow (by Yeats) and Key To The West (by Westerner) all manged to win multiple races, but all operated to their best over trips ranging from 2m-2.5m despite being by stallions who would be more recognised stamina influences than High Chaparral, for all like many parts of form study, this isn’t an exact science.
It would be hard to see Altior staying a strong-run King George on pedigree, although some positivity can be seen in the unbeaten jumper’s second dam being a half-sister to Moorish, a classy intermediate trip hurdler for Nigel Twiston-Davies who had some form over 3m back in the late 90s.
Class, it must said, will take a horse a hell of a long way and there can be little doubt in Altior being good enough to win a King George. Whether he can be as good over 3m remains to be seen, but also, whether he is as good as the years progress, is another question?
On last season’s evidence, I would say Altior was comfortably below the levels of his 2017/18 campaign. He still managed to go unbeaten in five runs but his performance levels dropped and winning at odds of 8/13, 1/8, 1/10, 4/11 and 1/6 hardly suggests he was truly up against outstanding opposition. Maybe his levels have dipped because he needs to go up in trip? Maybe he is just dossing as he gets older? Maybe wear and tear is catching up with the unbeaten-in-19 jumper?
I can’t be quite sure, but with the likes of Bristol De Mai, Clan Des Obeaux, Cyrname, Kemboy, Waiting Patiently all still young, established chasers and a classy-looking bunch of novices coming through Altior’s level of last season sees him beatable and that’s even before you factor in him being as good over 3m and as good for yet another season at the top flight.
On the plus side, the likelihood of decent ground will help his chance, but while I can’t see Altior winning a quality King George, his connections deserve a lot of praise for stepping up to the challenge, should he run, because let's face it, there still must be a chance he doesn't go if he doesn't happen to stay 2m5f in the Ascot 1965 Chase.