Record-breaking Altior set to step up the distance

Winners: Nico de Boinville and Altior clear a fence in Sandown's Celebration Chase.
Winners: Nico de Boinville and Altior clear a fence in Sandown's Celebration Chase.
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history-making Altior will step up in trip and face new challenges next season after extending his winning sequence to an historic 19 wins at National Hunt racing’s finale.

Nico de Boinville’s mount had to dig deep in the closing stages as he made all to win a third successive bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown.

The victory saw top trainer Nicky Henderson’s stable star surpass the 18 consecutive wins previously recorded by three-mile hurdler Big Buck’s for Paul Nicholls.

Owned by Patricia Pugh, Altior has been campaigned almost exclusively over two miles since the winning sequence began in a Chepstow novice hurdle in October 2015.

Yet, while Altior won a second successive Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month, connections believe the nine-year-old, whose jumping is his greatest asset, needs further to be seen at his best.

They have nominated Kempton’s three-mile King George VI Chase on Boxing Day as the target for the first half of the 2019-20 campaign before a possible tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

However, they could drop back for two miles and attempt to become the first horse since the Dickinson family’s Badsworth Boy, ridden by Robert Earnshaw, to win three successive Champion Chases in the 1980s for Yorkshire.

“He told us one thing today – go further, so that is what we will do,” said a relieved Henderson after Sceau Royal briefly threatened to overhaul Altior on the run-in.

“How we set it up, I’m not quite sure, but we’ve got a long summer to think about that. Nico said he had to keep the revs up the whole way there. He was firing along and going a good old rattle.

“His jumping keeps him going like that. He just keeps galloping. Nico said he is not quite as quick as he was, but I think that has been coming for the last year, so that’s fine – now is the time to do what you (the media) all have been telling me to do for two years!”

He added: “We are incredibly lucky, touch wood, he has been an easy horse to train. Although we have had that one wind operation, apart from that he has been a very sound horse, so let’s hope he can stay that way.

“If you have sound horses and you can train them properly, it makes life an awful lot more easy, as you know you are going in there in good shape every time.

“He is a very easy horse to read, he wasn’t ready before Aintree and he told us he hadn’t got over Cheltenham.

“It is great when you have horses that virtually talk to you. I would have loved to have gone to Aintree for the two-and-a-half race (JLT Chase), but he just wasn’t ready to come back for that.

“He is a great athlete. I was walking the course this morning with Nico and we walked passed the ditch in front of the stands and we said we know what he will do here. Every year he has met that ditch and gone ‘whoosh’.

“He is a champion and he has to be, as he has done what he has done, but as people say – you are not something until you have done something quite extraordinary.”

De Boinville said: “It’s great to get the record, it’s fantastic. He didn’t travel as sweetly as I’d like him, but we will go up in trip next season and go from there. It looks like he wants it. He wants every yard of two-and-a-half to three miles.

“I’d love to take on the likes of Cyrname and different horses like that. He is always just holding on to a bit. I just had to keep him up to his game and interested.”

Earlier, Bryony Frost made a winning return from injury when Black Corton landed the Oaksey Chase on the day she became just the second female rider, after Lucy Alexander, to be crowned champion conditional.

Frost’s 50th success of the season, her task on the Paul Nicholls-trained victor was made easier by the absence of Yorkshire challenger Definitly Red – Brian Ellison’s steeplechaser pulled a shoe and was not risked on quick ground.

Like Cheltenham Festival winner Frodon, Frost’s career and profile has been taken to new heights by her rapport with horses like Black Corton, who was winning for the first time this season.