Champion Chase favourite Altior 50-50 to make comeback at Newbury

Altior is now '50-50' to make his return in Newbury's Game Spirit Chase on February 10 after his exercise regime was stepped up a gear at Seven Barrows on Saturday morning.

Trainer Nicky Henderson was at pains to emphasise that the outing the Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite had on the gallops was not what he would describe as "work".

But he said it represented an important step in the eight-year-old's recovery from the wind surgery he had last month and he is confident that he will make it to the Cheltenham Festival in March, with a clear run.

Speaking at Ascot on Saturday, Henderson said: "It definitely wasn't work in my language – he's not ready to gallop yet – but what he did was different to what he's been doing, and he didn't make any noises. Today was quite an important part of his build up, and I'd say that by the end of next week he will be galloping as far as I'm concerned.

"What we call work is when we put three horses together and they gallop. He did not do that, and nor did he do that the day I first heard his noise. He had a full exercise, which he's been doing for the last month, but this was a step up and he got a big tick.

"What he did today he did very easily, which pleased us. It wasn't far short of what he did the morning he made a noise, and I can say 100 percent categorically he did not make a noise. Everything was good." 

He added: "The Game Spirit is now 50-50, but I'd say we definitely have a chance of running and if he doesn't run in the Game Spirit itself I'd like to think that he still will appear at Newbury that weekend for a racecourse gallop.

"He could step on a stone, like any other horse, but if we get a clean run we'll get to Cheltenham."