Altior taken out of King George after discussions with owner

Trainer Nicky Henderson was never in favour of running horse over three miles

The saga of Altior’s possible participation in next week’s King George was finally killed off when the star two-miler’s name did not appear among the 11 entries for the race revealed on Thursday. Nicky Henderson’s charge, who is still unbeaten over obstacles, is expected to be kept to two miles for the rest of this campaign, though his trainer happily contemplates the possibility of stepping him up in distance next season.

Henderson had made no secret, in recent weeks, of his opposition to the idea of running Altior over three miles next week. On one occasion, the Lambourn trainer said he would rather put Altior in the King's Stand, a sprint race, than the King George. But he could not put a definitive line through the horse's name until receiving confirmation from Altior's owner, Patricia Pugh, who was due to return from holiday on Wednesday night.

Pugh is thought to be more interested than the trainer in a change of distance but has evidently been persuaded to wait. Altior’s route to the Champion Chase in March is likely to go through the Clarence House Chase at Ascot next month or the Game Spirit at Newbury in February. He could still take in the Desert Orchid at Kempton on December 27th, though Henderson suggested that was unlikely.

Henderson will be represented in the King George by Might Bite, last year’s winner, who remains favourite for the St Stephen’s Day contest despite finishing last on his reappearance at Haydock. A classy collection of 10 others could yet take him on, including Waiting Patiently, Politologue, Bristol De Mai, Thistlecrack and Native River, who outstayed Might Bite in the Gold Cup.


Joe Tizzard, who assists his father, Colin, in training two of those, hinted that Native River has the more obvious chance in his eyes. "Thistlecrack will be an 11-year-old in 10 days' time. He's going into it in lovely form, we haven't had him like this for a couple of years, so we're looking forward to him.

“But Native River’s a younger horse who’s won a Gold Cup and was the better horse at Haydock last time. They had very similar preparations and they’ve both come out of it well, they’re entitled to improve. There’s not masses between them.”

No Irish raider has won the King George since 2005 and that appears certain to remain the case for another year, as the only remaining entrant from that country is Shattered Love. Gordon Elliott said on Thursday that his mare was more likely to run at Leopardstown next week but he wants to keep his options open at this stage. – Guardian