Jubilant jockey Nico de Boinville hailed Altior as “an absolute monster” after the heroic horse showed class – and guts – to make a successful defence of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Some spectacular jumps, apart from an unexpected and unaccustomed blemish at the water jump, saw the two-mile titan record his 18th straight victory, equalling the record for consecutive National Hunt wins set by Big Buck’s.
Yet Altior, trained by champion trainer Nicky Henderson, then had to show huge resolution to repel the challenges of Politologue and Sceau Royal on the dramatic run-in as rain-softened ground turned the race into a war of attrition.
Now a back-to-back winner of the Champion Chase, victory in 2020 for Altior will see the horse equal the three straight victories recorded by Badsworth Boy in the 1980s for the Dickinson family who trained at Harewood.
It was a fourth Festival success for the Patricia Pugh-owned Altior after wins in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Arkle and this race last year.
The horse could attempt to break the Big Buck’s landmark in next month’s Celebration Chase at Sandown.
De Boinville, who had earlier won the Coral Cup on the Henderson-trained William Henry, said: “What an absolute monster and aren’t we lucky to be in an age where he’s here.
“We should just celebrate him. He’s a phenomenal athlete – he doesn’t know how to lose. I don’t think that I rode Sprinter Sacre at his peak but I am riding Altior at his peak and, for me, he is the best I have ridden.
“I can breathe a sigh of relief now.”
Relief was etched across the aforementioned Henderson’s face – he had to witness Buveur D’Air, his dual Champion Hurdle hero, falling heavily in Tuesday’s feature race.
“He had to have a little fight there today, but he made it exciting for everybody, including myself. For me, it was hell,” said Henderson, whose Sprinter Sacre won the 2013 and 2016 renewals of this race.
Meanwhile, Topofthegame’s won the RSA Chase for trainer Paul Nicholls (of Big Buck’s fame) and jockey Harry Cobden evoked comparisons with the mighty Denman. The legendary horse, known as ‘the tank’ and also trained by Nicholls, won the 2007 renewal of this contest before landing the Gold Cup 12 months later.
And Topofthegame’s size meant he was able to handle the soft ground best of all as connections contemplate a Gold Cup tilt next year.
“He is a beast; probably the biggest horse I have ridden,” said a delighted Cobden who only became stable jockey to the resurgent Nicholls at the start of the season. “He’s only just growing into himself and improving all the time.”
Cobden and Nicholls are due to team up in tomorrow’s Gold Cup with King George hero Clan Des Obeaux who is co-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sixteen runners have been declared as Brian Ellison-trained and Danny Cook-ridden outsider Definitly Red attempts to become the first Yorkshire winner since Jodami in 1993.
Meanwhile, 2018 Grand National hero Tiger Roll prepared for his Aintree defence by turning the Cross Country Chase into a one-horse race. Like the aforementioned Altior, it was the diminutive horse’s fourth Festival victory and came on a day that saw two of jump racing’s great favourites prove their undoubted class.