Nicky Henderson insists it remains “very unlikely” Altior will take up his entry in the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton.
The star of National Hunt racing produced another imperious display on his seasonal reappearance in Saturday’s Tingle Creek, powering through the Sandown mud to see off the gallant Un De Sceaux.
That victory stretched Altior’s unbeaten record over jumps to 15 and he is already odds-on across the board to successfully defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The Patricia Pugh-owned eight-year-old has the option of stepping up to three miles for the first time in his career on Boxing Day, but Henderson is keen to keep him at the minimum trip – for the time being at least.
Speaking at a launch of the 32Red Festival at The Pheasant Inn in Lambourn, Henderson said: “We sat down after racing on Saturday as I knew on Sunday morning I was going to bombarded with ‘will he or won’t he’ questions about the King George.
“The owners were flying out Sunday morning and we sat down for a good hour after racing and chewed it over. I know Pat was very keen and she is braver than me, but I’m not for it and I think it is very unlikely.
“He was very sore on Sunday and was lame because he lost a shoe and pricked his foot, but this morning he was 100 per cent sound.
“He won well but in that ground I can’t believe he didn’t have a hard race – when Un De Sceaux is burning it up on heavy ground you know you are going some gallop.
“I just think trying to go three miles at this stage would be the wrong moment.”
Henderson still has a major contender for the King George, of course, in last year’s winner Might Bite.
The nine-year-old blotted his copybook – particularly in the jumping department – when finishing last of five in last month’s Betfair Chase at Haydock, but Henderson is hopeful he can bounce back at Kempton.
He said: “He wasn’t earth shatteringly impressive (in last year’s King George). He just jumped his way to the front and when he does that we just let him bowl away. He thoroughly enjoyed himself. He loved the track the year before as well in the Kauto Star until the last fence.
“He didn’t enjoy the other day (at Haydock) very much. There was a very good picture of him jumping the second fence which was the biggest one on the track. It flummoxed him. The picture shows he wasn’t jumping and he just landed on the top of it.
“He lost all rhythm and when you saw him round Kempton and Cheltenham the whole thing flowed. He never got into a rhythm at Haydock and it is a different track these days. I’m not blaming that – he should have done it but he didn’t. Bristol De Mai was the one horse that jumped really well and he deserved to win.
“We schooled him last Thursday and I spoke to Yogi (Breisner) and he agreed with me that he seemed to lose his rhythm.
“He will school again this week but he doesn’t need any remedial schooling – he just wants to get his confidence back a bit.”