ALTIOR perhaps faces his toughest Cheltenham Festival task since he beat Irish raider Min in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle four years ago when lining up in the Champion Chase next month.

Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson will bid to land the showpiece race on day two of the four-day festival with his outstanding 10-year-old for a third year in succession – an achievement that has only been unlocked once before in the sport’s history.

You have to track back to the mid-80s to find a horse strong enough to win the prestigious two-mile contest three times in succession –Badsworth Boy triumphed in 1983, 84 and 85.

Altior certainly has strength in the locker. Last year, he jumped the final fence upsides Alan King’s Sceau Royal and Paul Nicholls’ Politologue before snatching a one-and-three-quarter length win over the latter.

Speaking on Monday morning from his Seven Barrows stables, located in the downland of the Lambourn Valley’s training centre, Henderson reported Altior to be in good form.

He said: “We will start to tick along and give him a couple of schools soon. We seldom school him, but I think he enjoys it.

“If you take Newbury as his first run of the season, which you virtually have to, it was perfect.

“The disaster was the first run of the year (in the 1965 Chase) - it was in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong ground over the wrong trip. I couldn’t have made a worse job if I had tried.”

Though Altior has established himself as one of national hunt racing’s all-time great two-mile chasers, Henderson insists his bay-gelding has more to offer over a longer trip.

That’s despite the mentioned defeat to Cyrname in the 1965 Chase at Ascot over two miles and five furlongs in November on soft ground.

Five-time champion trainer Henderson will want pace come Wednesday, March 11. But possibly not too much given the recent heavy downpours in Gloucestershire which has left parts of the county saturated with water.

“If they go quick in a bot it might not help us,” said Henderson.

“He has got it (that turn of foot) - and it works. He jumped the final fence last year, then off he was gone and cleared away.

“We have been through all these years with Sprinter (Sacre), and the pressure was much the same - because everyone expected him to win. This year’s race is very competitive - and so it should be. It is going to be a big battle.”

Altior is currently 2/1 fav to retain his Champion Chase crown. Last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase winner Defi Du Seuil – a six-time winner at Cheltenham – is second favourite at 9/4 with Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi at 5/2.