Thu, 15 Mar 2018
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."
After the race, De Boinville 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."