Still unbeaten over fences, Altior overcame a chequered preparation – and a far from smooth passage – before showing his true class after the last.
With the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase now safely secured, trainer Nicky Henderson could become the first man in history to win Cheltenham’s three signature races in the same year if Might Bite wins tomorrow’s Gold Cup.
In a race that changed complexion when Irish challenger Douvan fell heavily, Altior’s final burst of acceleration off unsuitably tacky ground evoked comparisons with Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre who de Boinville partnered to a famous comeback win in 2016.
“That was a sensational performance. I was in serious trouble the whole way round. He was hating the ground. This ground would be the worst he has ever had – it is so dead and tacky – and would not be his ground at all,” said the winning jockey.
“They’ve gone a true gallop and it was a true test. They kicked on and I had to sit in behind and wait, and he is some horse to get me out of trouble.
“His jumping kept him in the race. He is exceptional and the best of the best. That was just sensational. What a superstar he is, and boy, am I lucky to ride him. I know that he has those gears at the end of a race. He’s a freak.”
Asked to compare Altior and Sprinter Sacre, de Boinville explained: “He and Sprinter Sacre are very different horses. Sprinter always did the best of his work between three out and two out, whereas Altior does it at the end, so you can afford to hold on a bit longer with him.
“But I just love the way he goes straight to the line there. It’s quite hard to peg them back in ground like this, but with his turn of foot, he’s done it like a hot knife through butter.”
Yet, while Altior showed why he is the highest-rated steeplechaser at present, two potential future champions emerged in the form of Samcro and Presenting Percy as Irish-trained horses won six out of seven contests.
Samcro, Ireland’s banker of the meeting, justified the hype by oozing to victory in the Grade One Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham for trainer Gordon Elliott and teenage jockey Jack Kennedy. “That was unreal,” eulogised the 18-year-old rider.
Yet, while Samcro will, in all probability, be campaigned over fences next season, Presenting Percy’s target will be the 2019 Gold Cup after an imperious win in the RSA Chase.
The novice, now a dual Festival winner after last year’s success in the Pertemps Hurdle, is trained in Ireland by the unheralded Patrick Kelly and was ridden by canny veteran Davy Russell, who started his career in North Yorkshire with Ferdy Murphy.
“I’ve under-estimated this horse all along,” said Russell who won the 2014 Gold Cup on Lord Windermere.
“He’s unimpressive to me, but he’s some horse. Sometimes you’re a fool and sometimes you’re a hero, but it all worked out. I’ve nothing but praise for the man (Kelly), he’s a genius.”
The same cannot be said for Russell’s great rival Ruby Walsh who will miss the remainder of the Cheltenham Festival. He aggravated the broken leg injury whichAltior had kept him on the sidelines for the previous four months when Al Boum Photo fell in the RSA Chase.