Nicky Henderson is “not going to promise” Altior will take up his entry in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury on Saturday.
The superstar chaser has not been seen in competitive action so far this season after a well-publicised breathing operation ruled him out of an intended return in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.
Henderson has been thrilled with how his charge has performed since returning to full work, but speaking at a media visit to his stables on Tuesday morning to promote the Betfair ‘Super Saturday’ fixture, the Seven Barrows handler stopped short of committing to a weekend comeback.
He said: “I think he is going to go but I am not going to promise.
“I did want to get another school into him. He schooled last week and he was fantastic, but he was nearly too fantastic. He would want to do it again to take that freshness out of him. He was so fresh that he wanted to murder them.
“He went 10 furlongs this morning on the grass and he was in great form.”
Henderson admitted he would prefer a little more time to prepare his eight-year-old, but is keen to give him a run before the Queen Mother Champion Chase in just five weeks’ time.
Altior is as short as even-money to clinch the two-mile chasing crown and claim a third Cheltenham Festival success following his previous triumphs in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy.
“I’d buy another week with him,” Henderson added.
“The only danger is, because he is so talented, the work is too easy for him. We are lucky we have got so many good horses but he can chew them up a bit.
“I’d like to get a race into him. If he gets beaten, he gets beaten – he is going to get beaten one day. You have got to hope he doesn’t, but you have got to look at it like that.
“His work is fantastic, his wind is fantastic and his jumping fantastic.
“All in all he is just in great form, he really is.”
Reflecting on the wind problem that ruled him out of first half of the season, Henderson said: “It only occurred when we moved him. On our all-weather you couldn’t hear a thing, it was only one day when we moved him onto the grass and that was his first day up there.
“The vet thought you could leave it, but would you get through the season? The chances are you wouldn’t.
“We had an option – listen, leave it. On the other hand, the Champion Chase is the only target and you couldn’t take the chance.
“If you ran him in the Tingle Creek and it hadn’t worked we wouldn’t have time to get back for this.”
Henderson has five potential runners as he bids for a sixth victory in the Betfair Hurdle on Saturday.Jenkins, who is joint-favourite with some bookmakers, has got his act together since being fitted with blinkers and was impressive on his last two starts at Kempton and Ascot.Henderson said: "He (Jenkins) doesn’t work in blinkers. He worked in them once and all we did was jump four hurdles in them."We didn’t think it made any difference at the time but it certainly seems to on the racecourse."He was very keen throughout the Ascot race over two-mile-three. I was worried he was doing too much but it didn’t stop him coming home well. I was very impressed."The other possible stable representatives are Kayf Grace, Lough Derg Spirit, Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue.Henderson added: "I think they are all in good form. They’ve all done a little bit of sharper work this morning."I think Kayf Grace has a great chance. She has issues with muscle enzymes, but we did her blood on Monday and it has never been better, which is very pleasing."I like Lough Derg Spirit. I think he ran a great race in the Elite Hurdle (in November) and this has always been the objective."Charli Parcs ran a good race at Newbury the first time. He might be the worry if we get a lot of snow and very soft ground, but his work is excellent."If you say anything works really well it is Verdana Blue and she is in the Champion Hurdle. She loves a good pace and is a two-miler only."They are all two-milers, there is no doubt about that."Henderson is not represented in the Betfair Denman Chase, with his chief Gold Cup contender Might Bite instead heading straight to Cheltenham in March."He did a bit of work this morning on the grass and Nico (de Boinville) rode him and Altior," said the trainer."There is a plan for a racecourse gallop. It is unlikely to be at Newbury this weekend but we will go somewhere in a fortnight."He could have two (racecourse gallops) if we wanted to, but I doubt it. He is a very clean (winded) horse."