Ruby Walsh and Frank Hickey have given their verdict on Nicky Henderson’s decision to withdraw Altior from the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last weekend.
The two-time Champion Chase winner was due to make his seasonal reappearance on Saturday but was withdrawn from the Group One race the night before by Henderson due to issues with the ground, leaving Politologue to take advantage and bag trainer Paul Nicholls his 11th victory in the race.
Punters were disappointed by the late call, but our resident jockey-turned-pundit Ruby believes it will be vindicated if the 10-year-old wins again at Cheltenham in March.
When asked on the latest episode of our twice-weekly From The Horse’s Mouth podcast if other trainers would have run Altior in the Tingle Creek, Ruby said: “I don’t think so, and I understand what Nicky Henderson was trying to do.
“He didn’t fancy putting Altior out to get beaten or have a hard race. That’s my understanding of it, and he didn’t run him. Maybe he just shouldn’t have bothered declaring him?
“I can see what he’s doing – he’s trying to get a nice first run into him, and have him ready for a big race. He just deemed the Tingle Creek to be too stiff on that ground for him.
“You’re not necessarily going to get a soft touch in a Grade One, but every race has different strengths and some are stronger than others. Nicky Henderson was so bullish about Altior all week, but he obviously didn’t fancy it. He might have thought he was going to get beaten, or have a harder race than he wanted him to have, so he didn’t run him.
“It’s easy to comment on it now. It’s in March that we will see if his plan has played out the way he wanted it. If he wins the Champion Chase, he was right – if he doesn’t win the Champion Chase, he would have got it wrong.”
Expert tipster Frank agreed with this logic, but defended fans who vented their frustration at Henderson and suggested that racing needs to avoid situations like this in order to attract new supporters.
“I think that potentially other trainers would have run Altior,” said Frank. “Connections and the trainer are entitled to do what they want with their horses and whatever they think is best for their horse, they’re entitled to do it.
“My one issue with the whole scenario was, when reading Twitter – obviously Twitter is a cesspit at the best of times – there were so many people giving out about it and then you had the racing fraternity coming back with ‘how many winners have you trained or ridden?’
“What they have to realise is that racing is a product. If you were going to a Liverpool match and you found out that Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were rested, you would be very disappointed. It’s similar here where people want to see the best horses.
“You’re trying to sell a product, and the best horse in the race last Saturday didn’t run. As Ruby says, if you’re not going to run him then don’t declare him. You’re just leaving yourself open to a bit of criticism.
“I just think we need to realise that yes, you need to do what is best for the horse, but people are entitled to be disappointed and air their frustration with it. It is a sport where we’re trying to attract new people in and it’s dangerous to be dismissive of their opinion, just because they’re not ‘racing people’.”
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