Henderson's 'warrior' Altior soars to new heights


London (AFP)

Altior equalled the record for successive wins over jumps with his 18th on Wednesday, surviving a couple of scares to retain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Altior's 18-race unbeaten run -- he has never been beaten over obstacles -- equals that of staying hurdler Big Buck's, trained by Henderson's big rival Paul Nicholls, between 2009-13.

It was a day when a couple of the big guns, Henderson and Irish handler Gordon Elliott, found their stride with doubles after a disappointing opening day on Tuesday.

Elliott in particular had struggled but a stunning performance by last year's Grand National winner Tiger Roll in the Cross Country race -- his fourth at the Festival -- put a smile back on his face.

Tiger Roll's odds for becoming the first horse since the legendary Red Rum (1973/74) in winning successive Grand Nationals also took a tumble.

Altior -- who legendary jockey AP McCoy says has everything you want in a champion -- looked under pressure coming to the last, challenged by Politologue and Sceau Royal.

However, Nico de Boinville roused a second wind out of him and he strode clear after the last to give trainer Nicky Henderson his 63rd winner at the Festival to draw level with Willie Mullins on the all-time list.

"He is an absolute warrior," said de Boinville, who put down a rare mistake at the water to "bad riding".

"I thought they were coming to me as the ground was against him. What an absolute monster."

"Are we not lucky in this age to have someone like him," added the 29-year-old de Boinville, who had also teamed up with Henderson to land the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle prior to that on William Henry.

- 'I was on the ground' -

Earlier, Paul Nicholls ended his Grade One drought at the Festival dating back to the 2015 edition as Topofthegame prevailed under a brilliant ride by Harry Cobden in a thrilling renewal of the RSA Novices Chase.

Nicholls welcomed back his 44th Festival winner -- not a bad way of impressing your landlord as he is the tenant of winning owner Paul Barber.

For Cobden it was redemption of sorts as he had been criticised for his ride on the winner in his previous outing.

"Bloody brilliant! He is a beast! He is definitely capable of going to the top," said Cobden.

Mark Walsh his win in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday by landing the first on City Island, outstaying Henderson's Champ in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.

Walsh's delight was Champ's owner JP McManus's disappointment -- the owner who had been celebrating on Tuesday thanks to Walsh's ride on Espoir d'Allen in the Champion Hurdle.

City Island's trainer Martin Brassil had tasted success in the Grand National -- Numbersixvalverde in the 2006 edition -- but never at the Festival.

"Long time coming, you need good horses to bring here," said Brassil.

"It features very high up on my achievements. It is great to have a winner at the Festival on your CV."

On a day where winners seemed to be universally described as monsters, Tiger Roll's jockey Keith Donoghue said his horse had the "heart of a lion".

Elliott looked considerably more relaxed too when Envoi Allen won the final race of the day in the Bumper.

"What a difference an hour makes. An hour ago I was on the ground," said Elliott.

"Another winner makes the difference. I'll have a few to celebrate tonight -- you have to enjoy the good days."