QUEEN MOTHER Champion Chase hero Altior maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a workmanlike win at Sandown Park’s finale to the 2017-18 National Hunt season.
Soft ground certainly did not play to the strengths of champion trainer Nicky Henderson’s star two-miler in the Grade One Celebration Chase at the Esher track.
However, Nico de Boinville’s mount found plenty after the last fence to assert from San Bendeto to extend his winning run over fences to nine – and to 14 in total if hurdles are included.
Nevertheless de Boinville, who went on to complete a high-profile treble, played down talk of Altior stepping up in trip to three miles and a possible clash with stablemate Might Bite, the Gold Cup runner-up, in Kempton’s King George Chase on Boxing Day.
“Against Might Bite? I don’t see the point in stepping up to three miles when you’ve got an outstanding Champion Chaser,” said the victorious jockey.
“He was pretty workmanlike, I have to say. I think Cheltenham left its mark. We have come here, it’s soft ground now, the rain’s got in a bit and I think he found it hard enough work.
“This is the mark of great champions, they can pull it out of the bag when they are up against the ropes.
“All credit to him as he retains his unbeaten record over fences.”
Even though jump racing is now in abeyance until Saturday when the 2018-19 campaign resumes, plans are already being made for the sport’s leading lights.
The aforementioned Henderson suggested Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase in early December would witness the reappearance of Altior – form and fitness permitting.
Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard, whose Native River edged out Might Bite in the Gold Cup, has signalled Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase on November 3 as the first objective for Thistlecrack.
The injury-hit 2016 King George hero has not raced since finishing slightly lame when fourth in last December’s King George at Kempton.
“He’s the one who almost certainly will go to Wetherby,” said Tizzard, who has no qualms about Thistlecrack and Native River clashing in the major races of the new campaign.
“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t do those same races. He’s a brilliant horse and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be back at his best for another season.”
In other news, jump jockey Ian Popham – who enjoyed several high-profile successes with Annacotty during an injury-ravaged career – has quit the saddle to become a riders’ agent.
Popham’s main client will be Harry Skelton, son of Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper Nick, and their objective is overhauling Richard Johnson who won a third successive jockeys’ title at the weekend.
Skelton finished 45 winners behind Johnson but Popham said: “Harry is a very driven guy and if anyone can do it I believe he can.”
Meanwhile, William Buick celebrated one of his biggest overseas career wins as the enigmatic Pakistan Star plundered the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin.
Buick discovered when his plane landed at Hong Kong that he had been booked for Tony Cruz’s mercurial performer, who could now have Royal Ascot on his agenda. The ride became available because Pakistan Star’s intended rider Kerrin McEvoy was signed off with an ear problem.
Buick had discussed at length the idiosyncrasies in Pakistan Star’s make-up that had caused him to pull himself up in the past.
He explained: “Tony went through his previous races with me. He’s infamous for his antics and what he can decide to do, but to be honest he never gave me any indication of that.
“I felt it was important to ride him with a fresh mind. He felt beautiful, just like a world-class mile-and-a-quarter horse, and he was competing against several multiple Group One winners. Tony said he’s not a horse you can bully and to treat him with kid gloves.”
The win compensated Buick for Blue Point’s disappointing run in the sprint. The former winner of York’s Gimcrack Stakes weakened disappointingly finish last of nine.