Tom Stanley: "Altior Will Bloody Your Face Over Twelve And Batter You On Points"

14 min

Matchbook Ambassador Tom Stanley discusses the weekend that just was including Altior’s terrific win in the Tingle Creek Chase.

Altior The Magnificent

A little like Buveur D’Air seven days ago, the best two-mile chaser in training had a harder task than Nicky Henderson would have liked for a first start of the season. A lot like his stablemate, Altior came through with flying colours. Literally flying colours at fence number two when he took off in Kingston and still landed running the other side.

He was fierce (I like this word for Altior) in dispatching nine-time Grade 1 winner Un De Sceaux. Not to mention two of last season’s top novice chasers.

Nicky Henderson has an absolute gem in Altior.

Fifteen from fifteen over obstacles, as impressive as his winning habit is the horse’s constitution. To almost always bring his A-game and to still win when he doesn’t. To bounce back from a setback last year after some masterful handling, it’s as if he’s forgotten how to lose. And boy can he finish. He’s the boxer you don’t want to go twelve rounds with. Fierce.

King George Candidate?

It’s that finishing effort, his ability to accelerate away on often rising ground, which has many questioning whether or not he would stay three miles.

Those afterburners over the minimum trip which give the impression he could rock up for a King George and boss that division too.

Whilst the King George test is not quite akin to the three and a quarter miles with hill finish of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, you still have to stay. And stay well. It’s the tempo of the Boxing Day feature, the relentless gallop over eighteen fences, never a whiff of a breather, no downhills for a fill-up. Whether there’d be juice in the Altior tank after that, we don’t know.

On pedigree it’s a stretch but he does settle well. I’d be in camp sceptical.

Tom ponders if Nicky Henderson will send Altior to Kempton on Boxing Day.

I think a more pertinent point though, one that was clearly at the forefront of Nicky Henderson’s mind when he appeared on Luck on Sunday on Sunday, obvs, is the eighteen days between Tingle Creek and King George. Whilst he won very impressively on Saturday, the race must have taken something out of him.

That gallop in that ground and on his first start of the season will take some recovering from.

All of me would love to see Altior line up on Boxing Day but not all of me is sensible.

And that part knows it’s as unlikely as it is impractical. For the benefit of racing? Perhaps.

But probably not for the benefit of the horse. Let him dominate the two-mile division once more this year. Cement himself said divisional champion. Three miles next year? We can but hope. And I wouldn’t count on it.

Oh, and for those who consider him as a better specimen than Sprinter Sacre. Not in Sacre’s 188 rated pomp he’s not. Not yet, anyway. And they’re very different beasts. To return to the boxer analogy, pomp Sprinter would stop you in the sixth.

Altior will bloody your face over twelve and batter you on points.

Nico Flying High

Sprinter Sacre’s last year gave the man who had ‘ridden him at home’ for all those years the chance to excel with him on the track. That he did. I’m not sure Nico De Boinville initially got the credit he deserved as a jockey but there’s no doubt he’s excelled in the last few seasons.

Seasons where he’s been under immense scrutiny and pressure given the horses he’s been riding. That Gold Cup (seriously that Coneygree ride took some nuts), those Queen Mothers, that King George, this Tingle Creek.

Nico De Boinville

He seems never to let the big occasion faze him. A cool head, an astute racing brain which comes across in post-race interviews (he tests you as a broadcaster too, ask a stupid question and all that…), you’d do well to find a better big race rider currently in the saddle.

Best’s Becher

Staying with jockeys, James Best’s celebration after riding Walk In The Mill to win the Becher was magnificent. A well-named horse because James gave it the windmill, swinging his whip about when crossing the line.

I spent a long car journey with James once, Taunton to Reading (long story involving the buying of a car) and he talked of the struggle after some good years, about how being a jockey was all he wanted to do and his belief he’d ride big race winners. Well, he made the most of his chance on Saturday and we saw just what it meant. I’m all for that.

Windmill away sir, well earned.


Pronounced Lawler, I think. Never quite know for certain so often just say if very quickly to avoid embarrassment. The mark of a good broadcaster yes?

Yes, Lalor was very disappointing on Saturday, looking an altogether different horse to the one which was so dominant at Cheltenham twenty days previously.

His trainer pointed out the ground wasn’t to his liking and I see that. He has won on soft before, but his career best came on decent ground last month and trying to jump out of softer ground at the tempo they went at Sandown may have proved too much.

The ground did not suit Lalor last weekend.

That said, I’d be more inclined to think the short break between races was the real issue. He was headstrong throughout at Cheltenham, a powerhouse performance but also one which probably took more out of him than first appeared.

I’d be interested to see him back left-handed on better ground off a little break.

And I’m not all that taken with the bare form of the Henry VIII.

In the Groove

Bags Groove must get a mention given that jumping display at Huntingdon. Wow! Not many novices can do what he did. And he’ll likely turn up on Boxing Day for the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. Add to that La Bague Au Roi who featured in this column last week and we’ve quite a race!

I’d half be more excited about the novice event than the main course (unless Altior turns up, he won’t, move on). The aforementioned pair taking each other on around Kempton will provide a fascinating spectacle.

Bags Groove more than caught Tom’s eye at Huntingdon.

A word for Secret Investor who finished second to Bags Groove at Wincanton last time out. He was more impressive than his nine-length beating suggests. That was his first go over fences and did well against a very good jumper with the benefit of chase experience. Secret Investor won’t be missed in the market next time given the form boost but he’s worth following this year.


Plenty of candidates for this. I was in the rain at Haydock on Wednesday when Newtide and The Big Bite won like two horses who should progress into a better grade.

Danse Idol (surely the next big Saturday night TV show) takes it though. She lit up Wincanton on Thursday.

Tackling hurdles for the first time and stepping up in trip, she gave a decent field on paper an absolute thrashing and did it the hard way too.

A race run at a solid tempo, she was never far from that pace and had a full tank at the finish. Harry Cobden had just ridden his second winner of the day but his demeanour when I interviewed him afterwards was very different this time around.

Clearly excited by what his mount had done, she has a bright future and will be chanced against the boys and/or in better company next time. I think she’s very smart.

Each week Tom hosts the Matchbook Betting Horse Racing Podcast as he is joined by guests such as Rory Delargy, Donn McClean, Sam Turner and Brendan Powell. Subscribe now to the Matchbook Betting Podcast on your preferred Podcast app and get involved in the conversation on our twitter page @matchbookpod