Seven Barrows maestro Nicky Henderson, who landed a fifth Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase last Wednesday with the impressive win of Altior, has been reflecting on the victory of one of his stable starts:
“I thought at the top of the hill (at Cheltenham) Altior was going well and they have gone a good gallop. Coming down the hill, he wasn’t going as well as he has done in the past, like when he cruised up to Politologue at Newbury. Here, he had a fight on his hands but his jumping stood up well.
“He was tucked behind four horses, but when Nico pulled him out, he was right to as there was no point waiting for a gap, he’s come round. As soon as he’s seen that daylight, Altior was up and gone very quickly. He was always going to win as soon as he picked the bridle up from there. The anxieties had gone and you knew he wasn’t going to get caught after he quickened clear.
“Mind you, how far will he stay? It seems the further he goes up that hill, the better he is. He was just going away and it looks like he wants further if anything. He had to get into a fight. I think we’re in ground that doesn’t lend to these classy horses just being able to do those great gear chances and split-second movements – it’s not easy when the ground is like this. There have been lots of good winners (at this year’s Cheltenham Festival) but nothing’s cantered away with a race as I don’t think you can do it in the conditions.
“They are all brave horses and when their class has been eliminated a little bit because of it, they have got to show they are brave as well and I think he and Buveur D’Air were. Our team deserve a lot of credit as they have all been brave this winter. We’re very lucky that we have great facilities and a great team. His foot problem on Monday was zero to him, but a real shock to us. If you saw how lame he was at that particular moment, he would have been doubtful for this, but luckily our farrier Mick was in there and he found the problem in seconds as did our vet Dave Mathieson – they were on it in a flash.
“We’ve only just said goodbye to Sprinter Sacre, the best I’ve seen, and it’s extraordinary that a horse in our yard has come on the scene to try and take over his mantle – we’re incredibly lucky to be honest.
“To find an Altior as soon as you said goodbye to Sprinter Sacre is unbelievable really. I can’t believe we’ll go further as why change things when you can keep winning things like that, but he would stay. It is amazing when you see a horse is appreciated like that. We had those wonderful days with Sprinter Sacre and he became a very public horse. Some of the scenes we saw here with him, you have to say the scenes today were reminiscent and you can’t believe so soon after he retired that you can find something creeping towards his aura.
“It was interesting looking at the graph in the Racing Post. There has been very little between Sprinter Sacre and Altior the whole way through. You couldn’t and wouldn’t compare them. I always said Sprinter was one of the greatest horses I have ever seen and those scenes here when he won the second time are unforgettable. If we get to that again, we will be very lucky.
“We’ve got more to work to do, but we’ll enjoy this success. Nico gave him a great ride – in big races he has never let us down. Nico has a great temperament and he’s a top man. He’s a very good horseman and he’s got a good head. What is lovely about Cheltenham is that people appreciate good horses – the place is everything to everybody, it’s totally unique and it’s humbling.”