Superstar status assured for the brilliant Altior

Horse Racing

Dual Champion Chase hero won four times at the Cheltenham Festival – and went unbeaten in 19 races.

Altior will be remembered as an undoubted modern great of the National Hunt scene.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, the dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner has retired at the age of 11.

Among his brilliant achievements, he put together a winning streak which lasted 19 races and stretched from October 2015 until his eclipse by Cyrname in November 2019 – a race which to this day his handler has never forgiven himself for running in.

The fact he won just one of his three bumpers probably illustrates the fact that Altior’s strength was his jumping – highlighted by the fact he never fell in his career.

He won his first four races over hurdles with the minimum of fuss, and headed for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as the 4-1 second favourite behind Willie Mullins’ Min, and the two would become pretty familiar with each other over the next few seasons.

For what would not be the first time, Min simply had no answer to Altior after the last as he powered up the Cheltenham hill for the first of his four Festival victories.

Henderson sensed that was enough for the season, and more excitingly announced the heir to Sprinter Sacre’s throne would be heading over fences.

Altior made his chasing debut at Kempton in November, beating a not inconsiderable opponent in Black Corton by a yawning 63 lengths.

A first Grade One over fences followed in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown before another win at Kempton.

Henderson then stuck his head above the parapet by running him against more experienced chasers in the Game Spirit, and Altior duly sauntered to victory by 13 lengths from Fox Norton – who nearly won the Champion Chase the following month.

Altior added the Arkle fairly comfortably at Cheltenham, before the first of his three Celebration Chases on the final day of the season – beating the Champion Chase winner Special Tiara by eight lengths.

The following season was delayed by a wind operation, and he made his comeback only in February’s Game Spirit – which set him up for a first Champion Chase, in which he beat Min by seven lengths. Another Celebration Chase followed.

It was something of a procession the following year. Wins in the Tingle Creek, Desert Orchid and Clarence House preceded another Champion Chase success before his third Celebration Chase at Sandown.

Since then, though, Altior has been restricted to just four races in two seasons thanks to a combination of the weather and circumstance – and he won just once more.

Henderson feels he was railroaded into running him against Cyrname over two miles and five furlongs at Ascot in November 2019. He admits he had been keen to see what Altior could do up in trip, with the King George even mooted, but the ground that day was desperate.

There was nothing wrong with his effort in defeat, a little over two lengths, because at the time Cyrname was the rising star of the jumps game and racing over his ideal course and distance.

But Henderson felt the race bottomed his star, and in truth neither horse has been the same since.

A fairly laboured win in the Game Spirit followed for Altior, but he was denied the chance of a Champion Chase hat-trick when he was ruled out of the race at the 11th hour with a splint problem.

His most recent season never really got going. With Henderson determined not to run Altior on going he deemed as too soft again, the Tingle Creek was bypassed only the night before.

That meant he reappeared in the Desert Orchid at Kempton, where he had no answer to Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra.

Incredibly he was denied another run in the Champion Chase in the days leading up to the race when he was found to be coughing, therefore missing a Cheltenham swansong his previous efforts there deserved.

While the latter days of his career did not pan out as many would have liked, and ended with Celebration Chase defeat behind Greaneteen in April, there is no doubt Altior will go down as the greatest two-mile chaser of his era.

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