Nicky Henderson looks to have chosen the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury as Altior's next step towards the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham festival, with the 10 year old looking to bounce back to form after being beat in the Desert Orchid Chase on Sunday.
Altior has been a very familiar runner in this event taking it out in 2018 and last year and this season he will need to win the race more than ever having lost over two miles for the first time in his jumping career.
One of the biggest shocks over the Christmas period came when the superstar was beaten for the second time in his career by 20/1 shot Nube Negra, with the 10 year old struggling from a long way out.
Henderson was quick to defend his horse after the race and got rid of any assumptions that retirement was looming for the star, but it now looks as though the handler had a genuine excuse for his horse not running to his usual level, with the gelding returning a dirty scope.
(Credit ATR) Henderson said:'We’ve scoped him – but it has to go to the laboratory, and we will look at it from there.
“We scoped him on Christmas Eve, but it was perfectly clean. Our vet has been closed here – so all our scopes are going to Newmarket, and that takes a bit of time.
“We will probably know a bit more tomorrow. He was very bright and sparky in himself this morning anyway – and so was Epatante (second at 1-5 in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle). She was very fresh.
“They did scope Altior there (Kempton), and there was something there. There was no blood or anything like that. There was probably a significant amount of mucus in there. You scope any horse after a race, and it always brings anything out of the bottom of the lungs.”
The yard will give him some time but it looks as though the trusted Game spirit could be the scene of where he bounces back to form.
The Seven Barrows handler added: “I would have thought this (Game Spirit) is the most likely place he will go.
“I’ve not thought about it yet (Cheltenham entries and Ryanair). I’ve not put him in the Clarence House, because that would come too quick anyway. We just want to get to him the bottom of a little bit.
“He has got a bit dreamier in his races – that is a bit of age and a bit of this and that. For all the world it looked as though he wanted two and a half miles because he finished his race very well – which was encouraging.”