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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Imperious Altior in a league of his own as he follows in Sprinter's footsteps

Altior and Nico de Boinville celebrate winning the Champion Chase
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He does not do it how Sprinter did it but the outcome is the same.

There is no better or brilliant jumps star than Altior, who continued to follow in the most hallowed footsteps when powering up the Cheltenham hill like a horse drawn to the winning post by a mighty magnetic pull.

However, through stages of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase it appeared he was in trouble.

It looked like that to trainer Nicky Henderson and it felt like that to rider Nico de Boinville, but perilous times were followed by an imperious performance as a young horse blessed with the most wonderful will to win surged to his third Cheltenham Festival triumph.

Owner Patricia Pugh already has Supreme and Arkle trophies at home. Now she has another, gained thanks to a resounding success in a contest that took place to a soundtrack of oohs, aahs and, finally, a deafening roar of approval.

Altior (left) jumps the final fence alongside Min

On Monday we feared Altior – sidelined through most of the winter after undergoing a breathing operation – may not be here at all.

Henderson, to his credit, immediately made public the news that his odds-on Champion Chase favourite had been lame. He also insisted the eight-year-old was well capable of making his date with destiny. He did and he delivered.

"It's 90 per cent relief and ten per cent pure joy," said Henderson, who on Tuesday secured back-to-back Champion Hurdle triumphs with Buveur D'Air. Now he could become the first trainer ever to land the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same week. That is for the future. This day was all about Altior.

"The foot thing was of no consequence whatsoever," said Henderson. "I wasn't going to use that as an excuse, but it has been a tough season for Altior.

View the full race replay along with the result here

"It was good to watch him do that. For a few seconds you wondered if it was going to happen, but as soon as Nico pulled him out and saw daylight the horse knew where he was going. He was electric. To find those gears on this ground off that pace you have to be pretty good."

Whenever Altior runs those gears seem to be found. He finishes with a strength and desire that is a joy to behold. On this occasion such late power was needed.

Not long after Douvan, who had been galloping and jumping with glee, crashed out at the final ditch, De Boinville began niggling the evens favourite. He and we remained anxious until Altior straightened for home, at which point he positively exploded, showing himself to be on a different level to runner-up Min and third home God's Own.

Altior salutes the crowd, with groom Hussain Mohammed watching, after Altior's triumph

"I was in serious trouble the whole way round, but that's solely down to the ground, which is horrific," said De Boinville.

"He's one of a kind. I was blown away by how he finished. He finds an extra gear after the last fence. It's incredible. He's some horse. I know everyone loves an Irish banker, how about an English one?

"He's exceptional – the best of the best – and that was sensational. What a superstar he is, and boy am I lucky to ride him."

He felt similarly lucky two years ago when teamed with Sprinter Sacre for the legend's second Champion Chase triumph, achieved three seasons after a first win in the race that had to be seen to be believed.

"They are different horses – Altior seems to have those extra few gears at the end, whereas Sprinter did his winning between three out and two out," added De Boinville, who has been part of their stories, as has Henderson's long-serving head lad Corky Browne.

"I wouldn't split them," said Browne. "Sprinter came back from the dead. This horse is only still just getting there. I think he can become better again."

To be rated the equal of Sprinter Sacre he will need to, yet for Henderson – a record 60-time Cheltenham Festival winner – the amazement is that so soon after one extraordinary two-mile chaser he has found another.

"That's the strange thing," he admitted. "I saw the graph in the Racing Post this morning that compared the two and now they really are going the same way.

"This horse is very good. I've always said Sprinter's are very big shoes to fill but this boy is doing it. We will never forget Sprinter, but for today we say thanks Altior."

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I know everyone loves an Irish banker, how about an English one?
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