The four-time Cheltenham Festival winner is set to begin his campaign in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase in what will be the first top level National Hunt race run in front of a crowd since March, with up to 2,000 fans allowed to attend the meeting following this week’s easing in coronavirus restrictions.
“Altior likes a crowd,” Henderson said. “He knows what they are there for – otherwise he’d think it was just a racecourse gallop like he had the other day [at Newbury], although there was more press and media there that day than there had been on any other day since racing returned.
“It will be nice for him. He enjoys atmospheres and he’s a horse who thinks he’s quite smart, so if there are any admirers there it will be great.”
Altior was beaten on his first start last season when stepped up in trip to take on Cyrname at Ascot, a defeat which saw the end of his record 19-race winning streak.
Henderson has said he regrets that decision and is this year returning to the tried and tested as the ten-year-old looks to recapture a race he won in 2018.
“We don’t want a repeat of last season’s debut – I think you can call it a debacle,” Henderson said. “If I could have done I’d have taken him out on the morning of the race, but there had been such amazing hype before it, and I dare say the crowd had been boosted by the fact Cyrname and Altior were meeting.
“I think the mistake was we were doing it for the first runs of their season, and actually it was nearly their Gold Cup. We were prepared for our first run but not for a dust-up in heavy ground over two-mile-five. Paul’s horse was fit – but he took the race hard as well.”
Altior returned to winning ways in impressive fashion in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February, but was forced to miss an historic bid for a third-successive Champion Chase at Cheltenham because of a minor injury, before the Covid shutdown curtailed the rest of the season.
However, Henderson believes there is no reason why he could not reclaim his crown this season.
“In March last season we were very happy with where we were and looking forward to the Champion Chase,” he added, in a call hosted by Great British Racing. “It was just a really unfortunate thing to pick up a splint.
“He’ll be 11 come the Festival, and we’ll be looking to win there for a fifth time, but he is capable.
“He doesn’t show any signs of old age – I’m the one that’s getting old, he’s the one that is young at heart. We still haven’t got a horse here that can go over five fences with him.”