Trainer Nicky Henderson has ruled Altior out of the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday in the latest blow of a disappointing season.
The 10-year old suffered defeat over the jumps for the first time in November in the Grade Two Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot.
Henderson maintains that Altior will be back in plenty of time for the Cheltenham Festival, with a hat-trick of Queen Mother Champion Chase victories the goal.
Speaking to Racing TV at Taunton, Henderson says he was probably being overly cautious with Altior, "It's me probably more than anything. His work on Saturday was great, Nico [de Boinville] was happy with him. [He] felt he needed to just do a little bit more today.
"I just looked at him last night and thought 'he just doesn't look like...' he always looks fantastic. He's never looked anything else for three years.
"Trouble is, he's been through a week when we had to miss the other race because he had his abscess on his wither - it was horrible, it was very nasty - he was very tender on it, in a lot of discomfort.
"To get rid of that we had to give him a lot of quite heavy-duty antibiotics. And I think everyone knows what antibiotics can do to you - they knock you down a little bit."
Altior always looks fantastic but didn't look himself last night, says @sevenbarrows.
The star chaser is likely to head for the Game Spirit now before the Champion Chase, his sole entry at @CheltenhamRaces.
Hear all the details in this in-depth interview with @_tomstanley_ pic.twitter.com/VGhJvDdGPw
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 7, 2020
Despite the November defeat to Cyrname, Henderson says Altior was due to run in the Grade Two Silviniaco Conti at Kempton on Saturday before the Seven Barrows trainer changed his mind, "Everything was alright last week, we worked away and he galloped on Saturday, Nico came back and says 'he feels himself', so we said right let's go and it's drying up at Kempton.
"Just looking at him last night he just didn't look himself to me.
"Interestingly we then we weighed him and he's two kilos heavier than he was before the race at Ascot.
"He just looked tucked-up and tight and... to me, he just didn't look like Altior."
"I don't think there's anything wrong with him, his blood yesterday was 100% correct - absolutely nothing wrong with him at all.
"You've just got to take your own judgement on these things, and I don't think Altior looks like Altior. I'd rather let it be, let it wait, leave a saddle off him for a few days."
Instead of using the Clarence House Chase at Ascot as primer for Cheltenham, Henderson will instead send Altior to Newbury for the Game Spirit Chase - a tactic that led to a first Champion Chase win in 2018, "There's no point trying to come back for the Clarence House next week, then you're walking into heavy ground at Ascot.
"He only needs one run, and there's only one objective - he's only in one race at Cheltenham - he's only in the Champion Chase. That's the only race I put him in.
"Therefore the Game Spirit fits him well, it's a route we've tried before and we'll just go back to that.
"Maybe I'm fussing about nothing, but I know what he should look like and I know what he looks like now."