Altior shines while Gordon Elliott bags a Cheltenham treble
ON a dramatic second day at the Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson’s Altior showed the heart and class of a champion to extend his unbeaten record over jumps to 13 in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
In winning at the meeting for the third year in a row, he joined a select band of multiple scorers– but his success did not look likely for most of the two-mile journey.
He appeared to be hating the tacky, holding ground and of the five in with a chance jumping the third-last, he was travelling the worst before being faced with his favourite hill.
It was then he clicked into overdrive and Henderson and Nico de Boinville could breathe a huge sigh of relief as he powered seven lengths clear of the Willie Mullins-trained Min.
Having suffered a scare on Monday when found to be lame, it was a feeling mostly of relief for Henderson.
“Altior has just got gears. Nico was very good on him and when he pulled him out he was just electric, wasn’t he? It’s amazing when you see a horse appreciated like that,” said Henderson after his even-money winner returned to rapturous applause.
“He stays this trip very, very well. It does look he’d love another half-a-mile. Would he get three (miles)? I don’t know.
“As soon as he saw that daylight he was up and gone very quickly – and he was going to win. The anxiety had gone and he wasn’t going to get caught.”
The returning Douvan looked to be travelling extremely well, only to fall down the back straight.
Much of day two belonged to Gordon Elliott, who saddled a treble, headlined by Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
The 8-11 favourite was burdened with the tag of the Irish ‘banker’ and Jack Kennedy kept him out of trouble and he was efficient, if not completely spectacular, in beating Black Op by two-and-three-quarter lengths.
“He looks a very exciting horse and we are very lucky to have him. Michael (O’Leary, owner) loves his big chasers, but I wouldn’t be afraid to bring him back in trip. He has loads of pace,” said Elliott.
Tiger Roll (7-1) won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, a third successive win at the meeting in three different races for the eight-year-old, while Veneer Of Charm (33-1) completed the Elliott three-timer in the Fred Winter.
Willie Mullins added two more winners to his day one-hat-trick, winning the Coral Cup with Bleu Berry and the Bumper with Relegate.
Mark Walsh was a late replacement on Bleu Berry but it made no difference as he produced his mount perfectly to beat Topofthegame.
The 20-1 winner was supposed to have been ridden by Paul Townend, but he switched to one of the favourites, Max Dynamite, following Ruby Walsh’s injury in the preceding RSA Insurance Chase.
Walsh came from the rear of the field aboard Willie Mullins’ inmate to deny Sam Twiston-Davies on the giant Topofthegame by a neck.
“This was the plan, if we could get him right, to get him into a big handicap,” said Mullins.
“Paul Townend switched off him and Mark was available in the weighing room and the minute I heard he was available I snapped him up.”
The last word of the day also went to Mullins, who cemented his position as king of the Weatherbys Bumper, recording a one-two-three as 25-1 chance Relegate and Katie Walsh led home Carefully Selected and Tornado Flyer.
Aside from Elliott, Mullins and Henderson (Altior), the only other trainer to hit the board was the low-profile Pat Kelly with 5-2 favourite Presenting Percy in the RSA Insurance Chase.
Another who was triumphant at last year’s meeting, he sparked Gold Cup dreams for Kelly, jockey Davy Russell and owner Philip Reynolds.
Russell said: “I’ve underestimated this horse all along.
“People have really latched on to him. He’s unimpressive to me, but, by God, he’s some horse.”