Having been graced with the magnificent Sprinter Sacre in his Seven Barrows yard, it appears that Nicky Henderson now has a haser every bit as good as his former stable star. Altior may not have acquired a rating as lofty as that of his predecessor but his winning run now stretches to 17 races, over hurdles and fences, with the potential to extend that remarkable record at the upcoming big spring festivals.
Of course, nothing is certain in horseracing, especially when jumping around the amphitheatre that is Cheltenham during the Festival, yet there does not appear to be a two-miler in training that can lay a glove on owner Patricia Pugh’s pride and joy. Having scared away most of the opposition in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January, Altior galloped his two rivals into the ground, despite a tendency to jump to his left. It made little difference and the nine-year-old sauntered to an easy seven-length success.
We’ve all heard the saying that “horses aren’t machines” – yet Altior appears as though he could be one, turning up time after time to deliver his trademark performance, one that always leaves his rivals trailing in his wake. Once that huge engine kicks into overdrive, there doesn’t seem anything that can stop Altior from crossing the finish line in first place. He is a remarkable racehorse and next season could get even more exciting, as connections may look to step the son of High Chaparral up in trip.
Mike Grech and Stuart Parkin will be trying to unearth the next Altior as the big-spending duo increase their ownership interests over the coming months and years. It was fate – or, rather, a charity auction in a pub – that brought the two men together and into having horses with the aforementioned Henderson.
The duo’s black and pink silks having quickly established a regular presence on Britain’s jumps tracks and will likely be seen at the approaching Cheltenham Festival as they dream of glory on the biggest stage of all. Despite the level of competition, they believe their significant investment in National Hunt horses will bear fruit.
“You want to put yourself in a position where you can compete, and I think Stuart and I have done that,” says Mike Grech. “I’d love to win the Champion Hurdle, love to win the Gold Cup, love to win the Grand National. You’ve got to have those dreams. The amount we’re spending, I do believe those dreams can become reality, you just need a little bit of luck.
“Now you’ve invested that amount of money, you need to know what’s out there and what the competition are doing, and therefore you need to be one step ahead.
“We’re very hands-on, probably if I’m being honest too hands-on, but that’s what we’re like in business – very much in the process and wanting to know what’s going on, so that’s your natural trait and it follows into horseracing.”
Breeding may be a small part of Grech and Parkin’s current plan but if they want to increase their involvement they should look no further than Batsford Stud in the Cotswolds, which has welcomed St Leger hero and Gold Cup third Harbour Law onto its expanding roster of sires.
While the Batsford stallion line-up – also comprising Swiss Spirit, Haafhd, Cockney Rebel, Native Ruler and Passing Glance – may not command the headline-grabbing fees of their Newmarket contemporaries, they offer value at their level in the market, as Carl Evans find out when he meets the Varey.