ALTIOR IN HIGHEST ALTITUDE
Nicky Henderson's brilliant Altior proved himself the king of two-milers when running out an emphatic winner of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Ridden by Nico De Boinville for owner Patricia Pugh, the eight-year-old even-money winner beat Min (5/2) and Gods Own (40/1) by seven lengths and 11 lengths. Fancied Douvan fell four fences from the finish when travelling well in the lead, and while Altior had been under pressure running down the hill he produced a turbo surge and ran away from his rivals in the home straight.
Altior needed a wind operation earlier this season, then had a slight touch of lameness two days ago, but following his 60th Festival winner, Henderson said: "If we had been beaten I wouldn't have used a sore foot as an excuse. It's been a tough season and he's been missing out on races, but he's so good - he's just got gears, and Nico was great because they were going a good gallop and he kept calm.
"To watch the horse do that, well, he was electric. In behind he wasn't doing that much, but getting lots of cover and getting a very cool ride. For a second he looked in trouble and I thought 'This isn't going to happen', but as soon as he saw daylight he knew where he was going.
"To find those gears in that ground off that pace, you have to be pretty good. It was a great race on paper, and I'm glad to hear that Douvan and also Charbel [who fell] are alright.
"We've been lucky enough to be down this road many times and it's 90 per cent relief and 10 per cent joy."
No trainer has saddled the winners of the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Timico Cheltenham Gold at one Festival, but Henderson has the last-named race's ante-post favourite in Might Bite.
He said: "It's funny how champions come around in the same breath, but I feel they help each other - if you have good horses they make good horses. But everyone at home has worked so hard this season during all the weather - I've got a really good team who have done everything.
"It's strange that Altior has come around so soon after Sprinter Sacre [who won two Betway Queen Mother Champion Chases]. This horse is very, very good, and I always said he had very big shoes to fill, but each time he wins he gets closer to doing that. We will never forget Sprinter, who tugged at heartstrings in a way this horse might never do, but if he wins again he might. Sprinter was such a show-off and a swank, and he won this race by a distance, although I'm not sure he beat horses as good as the runners in today's race."
'ALTIOR IS A FREAK', SAYS DE BOINVILLE
Altior's dramatic victory in the G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was the Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old's third consecutive success at The Festival, and on each occasion he has been ridden by Nico de Boinville.
In 2016 the pair took the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and in 2017 it was the Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase. All roads this season have led to the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and the two-mile chase crown, but Altior, a son of High Chaparral, has had to overcome various obstacles along the way.
Wind surgery meant that Altior did not run this season until February 10, when he took the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury by eight lengths. And on Monday this week it was announced that he was lame with pus in the foot, but the problem was swiftly resolved.
Today it looked as though evens favourite Altior and de Boinville might be beaten, but they rallied up the hill to record a remarkable seven-length victory over the Willie Mullins-trained Min. Second-favourite Douvan, ridden by Patrick Mullins after an injury to Ruby Walsh in the second race of the day, fell but both horse and jockey were unhurt.
It was de Boinville's second Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase win - he was successful aboard Sprinter Sacre, also trained by Henderson, in 2016 - and his seventh Festival triumph in total.
He said: "That was a sensational performance. I was in serious trouble the whole way round. He was hating the ground. This ground would be the worst he has ever had - it is so dead and tacky - and would not be his ground at all.
"They've gone a true gallop and it was a true test. They kicked on and I had to sit in behind and wait, and he is some horse to get me out of trouble.
"His jumping kept him in the race. He is exceptional and the best of the best. That was just sensational. What a superstar he is, and boy, am I lucky to ride him. I know that he has those gears at the end of a race. He's a freak."
Asked to compare Altior and Sprinter Sacre, de Boinville said: "He and Sprinter Sacre are very different horses. Sprinter always did the best of his work between three out and two out, whereas Altior does it at the end, so you can afford to hold on a bit longer with him. But I just love the way he goes straight to the line there. It's quite hard to peg them back in ground like this but with his turn of foot, he's done it like a hot knife through butter.
"You could step him up to two and a half and he would still be winning. We will have to see how he has come out of the race because he has had a hard race there - I think they all have.
"That was a great training performance to come back from the scare two days ago. I am very lucky to be associated with the stable I am."
ALTIOR REACHES SUMMIT
The Nicky Henderson-trained Altior (Evens favourite) became the fifth horse to win three different races in succession at the Cheltenham Festival following a remarkable performance in the G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Pushed along at certain stages throughout the two-mile championship showpiece, the eight-year-old son of High Chaparral jumped the final fence in second, but under jockey Nico de Boinville, Altior responded wilfully under pressure to master the Willie Mullins-trained Min (5/2) with a devastating turn of foot up the Cheltenham hill to score by seven lengths, with Tom George's God's Own (40/1) was a further 11 lengths back in third.
Altior was reported to be lame on Monday morning, but showed no ill effects in today's event with a superb jumping display. Henderson was registering his 60th victory at the Cheltenham Festival and his second winner of this year's Festival, following Buveur D'Air's success in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.
Seven Barrows maestro Henderson, landing a fifth Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, said: "I thought at the top of the hill Altior was going well and they have gone a good gallop. Coming down the hill, he wasn't going as well as he has done in the past, like when he cruised up to Politologue at Newbury. Here, he had a fight on his hands but his jumping stood up well.
"He was tucked behind four horses, but when Nico pulled him out, he was right to as there was no point waiting for a gap, he's come round. As soon as he's seen that daylight, Altior was up and gone very quickly. He was always going to win as soon as he picked the bridle up from there. The anxieties had gone and you knew he wasn't going to get caught after he quickened clear.
"This ground is testing and tacky and as much as he's gone in soft ground we've always had reservations about soft ground. That today was the first time he's come back and said 'I do not like that ground, I like quicker ground', but he's got those gears.
"Mind you, how far will he stay? It seems the further he goes up that hill, the better he is. He was just going away and it looks like he wants further if anything. He had to get into a fight. I think we're in ground that doesn't lend to these classy horses just being able to do those great gear chances and split-second movements - it's not easy when the ground is like this. We haven't seen anyone dominate a race this week. There have been lots of good winners but nothing's cantered away with a race as I don't think you can do it in the conditions.
"They are all brave horses and when their class has been eliminated a little bit because of it, they have got to show they are brave as well and I think he and Buveur D'Air were. Our team deserve a lot of credit as they have all been brave this winter. We're very lucky that we have great facilities and a great team. His foot problem on Monday was zero to him, but a real shock to us. If you saw how lame he was at that particular moment, he would have been doubtful for this, but luckily our farrier Mick was in there and he found the problem in seconds as did our vet Dave Mathieson - they were on it in a flash.
"The last two days was an abnormal run-in, but it didn't interfere. We've only just said goodbye to Sprinter Sacre, the best I've seen, and it's extraordinary that a horse in our yard has come on the scene to try and take over his mantle - we're incredibly lucky to be honest.
"To find an Altior as soon as you said goodbye to Sprinter Sacre is unbelievable really. I can't believe we'll go further as why change things when you can keep winning things like that, but he would stay. It is amazing when you see a horse is appreciated like that. We had those wonderful days with Sprinter Sacre and he became a very public horse. Some of the scenes we saw here with him, you have to say the scenes today were reminiscent and you can't believe so soon after he retired that you can find something creeping towards his aura.
"It was interesting looking at the graph in the Racing Post this morning. There has been very little between Sprinter Sacre and Altior the whole way through. You couldn't and wouldn't compare them. I always said Sprinter was one of the greatest horses I have ever seen and those scenes here when he won the second time are unforgettable. If we get to that again, we will be very lucky.
"We've got more to work to do, but we'll enjoy this success. Nico gave him a great ride - in big races he has never let us down. Nico has a great temperament and he's a top man. He's a very good horseman and he's got a good head. What is lovely about Cheltenham is that people appreciate good horses - this place is everything to everybody, it's totally unique and it's humbling."
MIN RUNS INTO A MONSTER
Willie Mullins, trainer of the second home 5/2 chance Min, who lost nothing in a seven-length defeat to the evens favourite Altior, was upbeat after the race.
Mullins said: "I am delighted with him, he came with what I thought was a winning run but Altior found another gear when I thought he looked beaten as they came down the hill.
"I was surprised to see Altior coming back around horses - he flew up the hill and we were going away from the third horse. It was a huge performance from the winner.
Mullins also trained Douvan, who fell earlier in the race: "He crashed out early enough.
"I thought he had done enough to show that he was back to himself. He was absolutely cantering, jumping great and I thought he was jumping so well and then he over-jumped and just caught the top of it.
"I thought it was a huge positive from my point of view looking at it [the way he ran].
"I think both horse and rider (son Patrick) are fine, I saw them both walking back.
"Maybe there will be Punchestown for him."
Rich Ricci, owner of both the Walk In The Park geldings, Min and Douvan, reflected: "The winner is exceptional - the race was over in three strides, yet he (Nico de Boinville) had been niggling at him down the back. Earlier in the race he had to hit him down the shoulder.
"Talking to Paul (Townend) he thought he had it as well, he came swinging and cruising, my horse ran a fantastic race but my god what a monster the winner is. We use that word a lot but he really is something special. A spectacular winner.
"Douvan was going well."
Paul Townend, rider of Min, added: "I am disappointed."
Paul Nicholls, who trained the fourth home Politologue, said: "I thought we were going to finish third. He just finished a bit weak for my liking. I am a bit disappointed he didn't gallop from the back of the last and finish third.
"He never seems to run that well around this track, I think he gets a bit stressy before the race and uses up a lot of energy. It might be that this is his level - it is all food for thought.
"He has run really well but I don't think it is his best run by a long way. It might be that he wants better ground and that he might get that at Aintree over two and a half miles.
"This place just might not suit him, three years this has happened, it might be spring ground suits him better."
Result - 3.30pm Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y £400,000
1 ALTIOR (IRE) NICKY HENDERSON 11ST 10LB NICO DE BOINVILLE EVENS FAV
2 Min (FR) W. P. Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Paul Townend 5/2
3 God's Own (IRE) Tom George 11st 10lb Paddy Brennan 40/1
4 Politologue (FR) Paul Nicholls 11st 10lb Sam Twiston-Davies 12/1
5 Ordinary World (IRE) Henry de Bromhead, Ireland 11st 10lb Davy Russell 40/1
FELL 6TH Charbel (IRE) (Sheepskin C/P) Kim Bailey 11st 10lb David Bass 28/1
FELL 4 OUT Douvan (FR) W. P. Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Mr Patrick Mullins 9/2
PU Special Tiara Henry de Bromhead, Ireland 11st 10lb Noel Fehily 25/1
PU Ar Mad (FR) (Sheepskin C/P) Gary Moore 11st 10lb Joshua Moore 50/1
Winner owned by Patricia Pugh
Distances: 7, 11, 5, 12
Breeder: Paddy Behan
Breeding: b g High Chaparral - Monte Solaro (Key Of Luck)
Tote Win: £1.80 Places: £1.10; £1.30; £4.20 Exacta: £4.20
60th winner at The Festival
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase winners (5) - 1992 Remittance Man, 2012 Finian's Rainbow, 2013 & 2016 Sprinter Sacre, 2018 Altior
Nico de Boinville
7th winner at The Festival
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase winners (2) - 2016 Sprinter Sacre, 2018 Altior
Altior is the 12th horse to follow up victory in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase with success in the G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The Nicky Henderson-trained runner is unbeaten at The Festival, having won the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in 2016, the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase in 2017 and the G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase this year.
Altior became one of a select group of five horses by winning three different races at The Festival in consecutive years. Flyingbolt, Bob's Worth, Vautour and Cause Of Causes are the four other horses who have already achieved the feat.
No trainer has won the biggest three races at The Festival in the same year. Nicky Henderson has started off well this year, sending out Buveur D'Air in Tuesday's G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle and Altior in today's G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. He has the ante-post favourite Might Bite for Friday's G1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
More from Race 2
Black Corton could have been third - trainer
Black Corton, ridden by Bryony Frost, trained by Paul Nicholls and owned by the Brooks & Stewart Families and Jeremy Kyle finished fifth and last in the second race, the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase.
Nicholls said: "Black Corton gets in a bit tight (to his fences), but he is really clever.
"He is not a massive, big, scopey horse that you can keep going long. He was always doing a bit too much in front in a better race and the ground is not ideal for him.
"If we had ridden him to be third, we would have finished third, but we rode him to win and he finished fifth. He has done plenty and is an amazing horse.
"I would never have dreamt at the start of the season that we would finish fifth in an RSA Chase and we might find one more race for him on faster ground."
Kyle told Radio 5 Live before the race: "After my children being born, this is the best day of my life."