NICKY Henderson is hopeful that Altior can live up to his billing and give the Lambourn trainer a dream start to the Cheltenham Festival tomorrow.

The seven-year-old is one of just two horses that will start as an odds-on favourite across the 28 races in the four-day meeting.

Altior heads out as a 1-3 shot to triumph in Tuesday’s second race, the Arkle Trophy, as he looks to claim victory at the Festival for the second year in succession.

Twelve months ago, Altior upset Willie Mullins-trained favourite Min in the very first race of the meet by taking victory in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, however, that success was no surprise to Henderson and the challenge now is to repeat the trick.

“Altior was an absolute banker in our opinion last year but he’s got to do it again,” said Henderson.

“On the piece of paper he is (a banker again) but this is a novice chase around Cheltenham and he’s still got to go and do it. He is serious and he can cruise along at any pace you like and just change gear.”

Altior also has an entry for Wednesday’s feature race, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, although he is almost certain to run tomorrow instead.

That would rule out the prospect of going head-to-head with favourite Douvan, another of Mullins’ strong contingent from Ireland, although Henderson says they have not intentionally side-stepped that showing.

“If people think he is capable of taking on Douvan, then they must be thinking we have got something reasonably right with him,” said Henderson.

“This horse could jump with Douvan. A lot of horses aren’t going to go with Douvan because they’re not fast enough and because they can’t jump quick enough. So far, that is what he has been able to do.

“After his second run I think we knew we doing the right thing, we said we stay down this road.

“When I said it the other day, I was slightly misquoted when I said: ‘I don’t feel sorry for Willie Mullins’.

“I do feel very sorry for him, because he’s a great mate, but we’re not so sympathetic that we’re not taking him on because I want him to have a nice time.”

Altior’s rise to prominence comes shortly after Henderson retired two-time Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre earlier in the season and the Seven Barrows handler admits he is fortunate to have landed upon such a stellar two-miler so soon.

“It’s an extraordinary game,” said Henderson. “We are a long way from another Sprinter Sacre but he is creeping up the road. Now he has got to come out and do the same in the Arkle, then we will compare him in ratings.

“If it happens, if he doesn’t do something silly, there are bound to be comparisons.

“You wouldn’t believe that you have to put away one that was as great as that and replace it with another serious two-mile horse.”

More Cheltenham Festival build-up in tomorrow’s Swindon Advertiser