Cheltenham Festival: Altior pulls out of Champion Chase
The biggest week in racing gets underway, but star horse is forced to withdraw
The Cheltenham Festival, the biggest week in the horse racing calendar, gets underway today.
With 28 races across four days, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, there is plenty of action ahead.
There had been doubts over whether the meet, which attracts 250,000 spectators, would go ahead because of the coronavirus outbreak, but organisers opted to continue.
It is the third year in a row the festival has overcome obstacles to go ahead. Last year equine flu put the event at risk and in 2018 snow threatened the festival.
The big race of the day is the Champion Hurdle, but there will also be plenty of interest in the curtain raiser – the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
But the most shocking news on day one concerned star horse Altior, who was due to race in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champions Chase but has pulled out after suffering problems with a dormant bone splint on Sunday.
The two-time champion was aiming to become the first horse since Badsworth Boy in 1985 to win three Champion Chase titles.
"We were genuinely optimistic that he'd be sound this morning,” said trainer Nicky Henderson. “That is not the case.
“It's brutal - it's not an issue that has ever bothered him before, he’s never taken a lame step in his life. The timing is just ridiculous.”
Altior was possibly the biggest name on the race cards this week and his withdrawal is “a bitter blow for Nicky Henderson, and means one of the week’s most anticipated battles, with the two-time Champion Chase winner taking on Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi, will no longer take place”, says The Guardian.
3.30 Champion Hurdle: Epatante
“The biggest field since Punjabi won in 2009 has few credible contenders,” says tipster Marlborough of the Daily Telegraph. “Nicky Henderson has four chances of a record eighth success and the pick is Epatante. I feel certain we have yet to witness the best of her and an authoritative, comfortable, Christmas Hurdle victory already gives her the best form credentials.”