Altior predictably sauntered to a facile victory in the Grade 2 32Red.com Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park, with a pleasing round of jumping, as he cruised inexorably towards another clash with Min.
Another disappointingly small field of four assembled for this valuable contest, with all eyes focussed on recent Grade 1 winner Altior.
From the off it was Marracudja who went into the lead and took the first fence about three lengths clear of the mare Stephanie Frances, with Altior third and Mrsrobin last of the four and soon tailing off.
Marracudja and Sean Bowen passed the post with a five length lead over Altior and Stephanie Frances.
Racing down the back straight, Marracudja’s lead was reduced, but he really stood off the first open ditch in grand style., with Stephanie Frances and Altior in close proximity.
Marracudja took the seventh ahead of Altior who travelled well and loomed large after the next fence, with Stephanie Frances now four lengths back.
Turning for home, Altior travelled sweetly for Noel Feily, inching into the lead three from home and jumping well, with Marracudja under pressure to keep in touch.
Altior bound over the second last and eased clear heading to the last fence, taking it well and cruising to an easy victory over Marracudja, who in turn was a long way clear of Stephanie Frances.
The Nicky Henderson trained 6 year old has now won his last eight starts and a clash with Irish star Min in the Arkle Trophy, is something for racing fans to look forward to in March.
Fehily, who was completing a hat-trick on the card, said: “He’s very good. He does everything so easily and he’s such a good jumper as well.
“He made a mistake here (last month) at the ditch down the back, but today he was very neat. He jumped great the whole way – he’s a very good horse.
“Nicky Henderson has always said how good he thinks he is. I rode him a piece of work for the first time last week and he blew me away.”
He added: “I think he’s learning how to relax. He’s not going through his races pulling like he used to. It’s only when you really switch him that he shows what he can do.
“I think I’m only scratching the surface so far.”
Trainer Nicky Henderson is comfortable with his decision to switch Altior to fences instead of charting a course towards the Champion Hurdle.
“It was a big decision (to switch), but at the moment I’m certainly not regretting it,” he said.
“I think he is a very good horse. Going round here on his first chase he was good and at Sandown he was also good, apart from landing on top of one. Today you could see he had really worked it out.”
Henderson is looking forward to the potential clash with Willie Mullins’ Min, whom Altior had in second place in the Supreme and has also made the switch to fences with aplomb.
He said: “What he did just now was really 10 out of 10. But they both look very good. Min looked good in Ireland and it looks like we’re heading for another head to head.”
Asked whether Altior would have another run before the Arkle, the Seven Barrows trainer said: “When he came here at this time last season it was his fourth run and we waited for the Festival. This time it’s his third start, so let’s see.
“If I did do it (give him another outing) I might look at the Game Spirit, as that’s where we went with Sprinter Sacre in his novice year.
“We’ve got Buveur D’Air as well and I’d like him to come into the equation, the Kingmaker and things like that might suit him.
“We’ll have to juggle the cards round a little bit, see what the weather does. If we were going to get a very soft, wet spell and we were unable to run Altior again that wouldn’t worry me.
“I expect him and Min will just be sitting and waiting and looking at each other.
“I had a very nice text from Joe Chambers (owner Rich Ricci’s racing manager) after Min won yesterday saying ‘over to you Altior’ – I can only say ‘the ball’s back in your court Min!’. It’s fun, it’s what it’s all about.”
Regular pilot Nico de Boinville watched from the stands and hopes to be back from injury in time to resume his association with Altior.
He said: “I’m having intensive physio and doing everything I can because there’s so much to come back for. If I am lucky I might be able to shave a couple of weeks off the time I’ve been told I could be out.”