Altior As Brave As He Is Brilliant


Altior and Nico de Boinville win their second Queen Mother Champion Chase | Racing Post


CHELTENHAM, UK—It takes a great horse to win championship races, but it takes a true champion to fight his way back for glory just as it looks as if he is beaten. At Cheltenham on Wednesday, the remarkable Altior (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}) claimed not just his second G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase but his fourth win at the Festival and his 18th consecutive victory to equal the winning streak of one of the track's great heroes, Big Buck's (Fr) (Cadoudal {Fr}). However, it was the manner of Altior's latest triumph, rather than mere statistics, which showed that he is far more than just a horse gifted with rare ability but also one with the grit to produce a rallying final charge in compensation for an uncharacteristic blunder which disrupted his trademark smooth passage.

“I was thinking about Winx (Aus) last night and 18 wins is totally irrelevant really,” said Nicky Henderson with a grin as he admitted to a degree of relief with regard to Altior's triumphant return, which gave the trainer his sixth win in the race and his second dual champion after Sprinter Sacre (Fr) (Network {Ger}).

He continued,”It's nice when it's over. It's like hitting your head against a brick wall. The only nice bit is when it stops. We've been very lucky and to find another one like [Sprinter Sacre] so soon has been extraordinary.”

For jockey Nico de Boinville it was a third Champion Chase success in just four years, and with a Gold Cup among his swiftly rising tally of big-race wins, Henderson's unassuming stable jockey can rightly be considered among the best of his generation.

The trainer added, “Nico started with us as an amateur and he was known as Sprinter's work rider, that's how he made a name for himself, but he has a name in his own right now.”

As the day's feature unfolded, Altior, in second behind long-time leader Saint Calvados (Fr) (Saint Des Saints {Fr}), prompted a collective gasp from the crowd as he fiddled the water jump, getting low but managing to stay on his feet and regain his momentum to take up the lead with three fences left to jump. With his advantage significantly reduced, he had Politologue (Fr) (Poliglote {GB}) and Sceau Royal (Fr) (Doctor Dino {Fr}) breathing down his neck at the second last and he temporarily surrendered the lead to the latter on landing after the final fence. His superior class soon told, however, as he rallied between the two challengers, his neck long and low as he gave one last effort up the hill for home, with Politologue staying on to take second.

“Altior is an absolutely warrior,” said de Boinville. “We were just slightly coming unstuck on that ground. We had a bit of a miscommunication at the water jump, when he wanted to go long and I wanted him to come in and pop because I didn't want him to get too exuberant over those fences and waste too much energy.

“We definitely went half a length down after the last, but he just seemed to find this extra gear. I don't know where it comes from—he is just a phenomenal athlete. I think he doesn't know how to lose at the moment. Long may it continue.”

Altior's win was the second of the day for both trainer and jockey, who had struck in the previous race with the fast-finishing William Henry (Ire) (King's Theatre {Ire}) in the G3 Coral Cup, allowing Henderson to draw level again with his old foe Willie Mullins, the pair having trained 63 Festival winners apiece.

At The Top Table
While it is Mullins with whom Henderson regularly does battle for Cheltenham honours, the man keeping him off the top of the jumps trainers' table in Britain is the former 10-time champion Paul Nicholls, whose unusual dry spell of the last few seasons has come to a definitive end this year.

With the well-timed win of the statuesque Topofthegame (Ire) (Flemensfirth {Ire}) in the G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase, it was unsurprising that minds were cast back to Denman (Ire) (Presenting {GB}), a former winner of the race for Nicholls and owner Paul Barber who went on to glory in the Gold Cup.

“He is not unlike Denman,” admitted Nicholls. “We're really excited to have him. He is rated pretty much the same as Denman was at this stage of his career. Denman was a grinder and this horse has plenty of boot. He travels well and jumps well—he is only going to get better.”

At 17.3hh, Topofthegame, is one of the biggest horses in training and his reputation is fast catching up, as is that of his young jockey Harry Cobden, who was riding his second Festival winner after giving his mount an accomplished, patient ride.

“He is a beast, probably the biggest horse I have ridden,” said the 20-year-old. “He's only just growing into himself and improving all the time. He travelled into the race great and I wanted to make sure I got two good jumps, and that's what I got, then he galloped up that hill. He winged the last couple of fences, and he's only just got the confidence to do that—before he'd find a way to back out of it. He got it right at the last and it probably sealed the deal.”

City Slicker Than The Rest
The remainder of Wednesday's races were dominated by Irish-trained runners, with first blood going to Martin Brassil, whose City Island (Ire) (Court Cave {Ire}) delivered a dream victory for owner and race sponsor Sean Mulryan in the G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.

Mulryan, chief executive of Ballymore, said: “It's my first winner in Cheltenham at the Festival, and to win our own race is very special. This is a magic place, and to win any race here is fantastic.”

City Island became a second winner of the same race for his unraced sire Court Cave, a full-brother to Beat Hollow (GB) who stands at Boardsmill Stud. The Juddmonte-bred brothers came very close to both being represented by winners on Wednesday when the veteran globetrotter and G1 Irish St Leger winner Wicklow Brave (GB) made a last-to-first dash under top weight in the Coral Cup, only to be beaten on the line by William Henry.

Tiger's Feat
He may not have the elite status of Altior but Tiger Roll (Ire) (Authorized {Ire}) is every bit as hardy and grows in cult status with each passing race. He too recorded his fourth Festival victory, cruising to a follow-up win in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase in the hands of Keith Donoghue. More importantly, his stroll around the intricate course within Cheltenham's main track will put him spot on to defend his crown at Aintree in next month's Grand National.

Eddie O'Leary, brother of winning owner Michael O'Leary of Gigginstown House Stud and Ryanair fame, explained that a spell in the hunting field had reignited the 9-year-old's passion for racing. He said, “He's not a good horse, he's a great horse. He looks to be a freak of nature, and people forget that he had stopped racing. He was sick of the game and didn't want any more of it, then Keith Donoghue took him hunting [in 2017] and he went down the cross-country route and he got his mojo back.”

He added, “The cross-country discipline really invigorated him, so while people dismiss this race, don't forget what it can do for some horses.”

O'Brien Officially On The Board
Three years ago, Joseph O'Brien unofficially trained his first Cheltenham Festival winner when Ivanovich Gorbatov (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}) won the G1 Triumph Hurdle for JP McManus. However, this was several months before O'Brien junior received his training licence so the win of the horse under his care went down in the name of his father Aidan. Since the official start of his training career, Joseph has left few stones unturned and has already recorded significant milestones on the Flat. Now his jumping CV has been embellished with victory at Cheltenham for another 4-year-old hurdler, Band Of Outlaws (Ire) (Fast Company {Ire}), who landed the G3 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle under the trainer's cousin JJ Slevin.

A treble winner on the Flat before switching to hurdles, Band Of Outlaws was bought by the O'Brien's sister Sarah for €11,000 as a yearling at the Tattersalls Ireland September Sale and races in the colours of Jason Carthy.

“Band Of Outlaws has not done much wrong over hurdles, though in a handicap it is hard to know and he was carrying near to top-weight,” said O'Brien.

“He is not an easy ride because you can't get there too soon on him. It got a bit tight between horses and JJ let them have the room before coming back around them, which was the right thing to do because as soon as he gets there, he has a look.

“We thought we had a few chances yesterday. They all ran well, but it is nice to get a winner today.”

Allen Again
On Tuesday it was the turn of Espoir d'Allen (Fr) (Voix Du Nord {Fr}) in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle and 24 hours later his relation Envoi Allen (Fr) (Muhtathir {Ire}) gave breeder Bruno Vagne his second top-flight winner in two days when storming to success in the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

The victory was also the second at the meeting for Cheveley Park Stud, which had been represented on the opening day by the wide-margin winner A Plus Tard (Fr) (Kapgarde {Fr}). Buying French-bred jumpers and sending them to be trained in Ireland is working a treat for David and Patricia Thompson so far, though the Gordon Elliott-trained Envoi Allen was made to dig deep to repel a determined challenge from Blue Sari (Fr) (Saddex {Ire}), the sole runner for Willie Mullins who normally launches a multi-pronged attack for Wednesday's traditional closer.

The AQPS-breds Espoir d'Allen and Envoi Allen share the same third dam, Violeta (Fr), a stalwart of the Vagne family's breeding operation in Allier, central France.

From Parade Ring To Sales Ring
As soon as the winner and placed horses have vacated the winner's enclosure after the final race today (Thursday), the hallowed space will temporarily become a sales ring and rostrum as 24 select National Hunt prospects come under the hammer for the Tattersalls Cheltenham Festival Sale.

Close inspection will doubtless be given to lot 18, Enjoy d'Allen (Fr) (Network {Ger}), an eight-length point-to-point winner who hails from the family the aforementioned Grade 1 winner Espoir d'Allen and Envoi Allen.

Recent form is the key ingredient to attracting decent prices at the rising number of boutique sales throughout the jumps season and, with the catalogue hot off the press, the immediacy of the results are highlighted by the fact that eight horses—one third of the catalogue—won point-to-point races over the previous weekend. They include lot 19, Hold That Taught (GB), a 4-year-old Kayf Tara (GB) half-brother to the dual listed-winning hurdler Banjaxed Girl (GB) (King's Theatre {Ire}) who was herself represented by a 4-year-old winner at Sandown on Saturday when her first foal, Le Milos (GB) (Shirocco {Ger}) struck on his second British start for Tim Vaughan. Also offered is 5-year-old Crypto (Ire) (Gold Well {GB}), who won a Newcastle bumper by 16 lengths on debut on March 5 and is the penultimate horse through the ring (lot 23).

Turnover for last year's Festival Sale stood at £3,165,000 for 20 horses sold at an average price of £158,250.

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