Cheltenham Festival hero Altior a shock Betfair Chase entry

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Altior is one of eleven entries for the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park later this month.
Altior is one of eleven entries for the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park later this month.

Multiple Cheltenham Festival-winner Altior is the shock name on the list of eleven entries for the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The Nicky Henderson-trained superstar is widely expected to make his seasonal debut in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, but connections have clearly decided to have the Haydock race as a back-up option on the same day later this month.

The nine-year-old has dominated every division he's graced in recent years, with wins in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the Arkle Trophy and the Queen Mother Champion Chase on two occasions already on his CV, but a clear a step up in trip now seems to be firmly on the agenda. A tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day has long been mentioned as the early season target for one of the best horses in training before being aimed at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, where he will attempt a remarkable fifth successive at the meeting.

What does remain up in the air for now, though, is the first assignment of the season for Altior - who was the surprise name on the list of Betfair Chase entries on Wednesday morning.

A slog on soft ground over three miles is unlikely to appeal to Nicky Henderson as the starting point for his stable star, but the fact he has been entered at all does seem to confirm that the plan is to step up in trip this season. A clash with Cyrname over two miles and three furlongs at Ascot in the 1965 Chase is likely to be the preferred route, with that race used by a number of horses down the years stepping up in trip on route to Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

In total, there are 11 entries for the Betfair Chase - with dual winner Bristol De Mai the headline name as he goes for a third straight win in the famous race.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained horse always seems to save his best form for Haydock, with the soft ground-loving horse seemingly perfectly suited to the test on offer at Haydock. Still only an eight-year-old, Bristol De Mai finally produced a big run in the spring last season when he finished third in third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and it is no surprise to see him priced up as the one to beat once again in the Betfair Chase.

Twiston-Davies could also decide to run Ballyoptic in the race, after his impressive victory in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, with the more rain likely to be the better for a horse who loves a stamina-sapping test.

Other potential runners in the field include Frodon, who won the Ryanair Chase last season and is being given another try at three miles, and Lostintranslation, who was a Grade 1-winning novice chaser last term for Colin Tizzard, and looked in terrific form when winning at Carlisle on seasonal debut last week.

The Betfair does also act as the first leg of the much vaunted Jymps racing Triple Crown, with £1 million on offer for any horse who is able to win the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season - and that does of course add another angle to the Haydock race.

It does remain highly unlikely that we will see Altior turn up to take on Bristol De Mai, but the mere presence of his name on the entry list has stirred up plenty of excitement about the next few months. The Patricia Pugh-owned superstar has already earned a reputation as one of the best two mile horses in recent memory, but with a step up in trip now clearly on the horizon, he is on the verge of cementing his place in even higher equine company.

He couldn't, could he?

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