Cheltenham Festival, day two: Altior aiming to join the greats

NICKY HENDERSON spoke last night about the weight of expectation as steeplechasing superstar Altior attempts to join National Hunt racing’s all-time greats.

Altior and Nico de Boinville will attempt to equal racing history in today's Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Victory in today’s Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase would see it equal the record 18 successive victories over jumps that was set by Big Buck’s.

It would also see the horse – the mount of Nico de Boinville – record a fourth successive Festival victory following wins in the 2016 Supreme Novices Hurdle, 2017 Arkle Chase and last year’s Champion Chase.

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Owner Patricia Pugh’s first horse, Henderson is pinching himself that he has another horse to rival the legendary Sprinter Sacre who was good enough to win the Champion Chase twice.

“We hope he can win his 18th consecutive race. Everything has gone quite smoothly,” he said.

“I will never forget this time last year, he literally came out on three legs on the Monday morning and that is how frightening this game is.

“The prep has been good. We have come in on a different strategy this year and we stopped after the Clarence House.

“He has been great. Soft ground doesn’t help Altior, but he is in great form and they should set him a good gallop. We’ve just got to go out and do it.”

Henderson, also the reigning champion trainer, outlined the pressure he feels with Altior so soon after Sprinter Sacre won this celebrated two-mile contest in 2013 and then three years later after a stirring comeback from injury.

“You are always are nervous about him, as you are back in the Sprinter Sacre situation and I can tell you how horrible it was then,” explained the trainer who is taking nothing for granted after his dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air fell yesterday while attempting to land a hat-trick of wins.

“It is the same factor – anything bar a good performance won’t do. It’s a fait accompli – but there are lots of fences and lots of people there still trying to take us on. He is not quite the showman that Sprinter was, but he is a very good-looking horse.

“Altior is a proper machine in work in that he gets on with it. He has got tremendous pace and, touch wood, his jumping is pretty accurate and he has got a lot of gears.”

Min, the mount of Ruby Walsh, has seven lengths to find on Altior from last year and his trainer Willie Mullins has been thinking of ways to cut the deficit.

“Min has done things well this year and he ran well behind Altior in the Champion Chase last year. I’ve been very pleased with Min this season,” said Ireland’s champion trainer.

“Altior looked beaten last year, but he just has a huge engine. He seems to miss a beat or two and then goes. Nico de Boinville rides him very well – he never panics and knows what he has underneath him and just has to wait for it to kick into gear.

“We have seven lengths to make up, but you can’t not take him on because of that. We’ll see if there are any tactics that can make the difference, and who knows what the ground is going to be like? We’re going to do our best.”

The Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue finished fourth in the race last year, but has yet to win in four visits to Cheltenham.

Rider Harry Cobden said: “He is in good form at home and it is a good prize, so why not have a go at it?

“We’ve got it all to do to beat Altior, but he has a good chance of getting placed.”