ALTIOR was made to battle in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase but eventually prevailed in the day two showpiece at the Cheltenham Festival to extended his unbeaten record over obstacles to 18.
In doing so he moved level with the great staying hurdler Big Buck’s – but the result looked far from certain for much of the home straight.
Nico De Boinville was content to follow Saint Calvados in the early throes, but the 4/11 favourite left his hind legs in the water jump and for the next few fences he jumped a bit too big.
Left in front at the third-last, De Boinville still looked confident, although the challengers were mounting up behind him, with Ruby Walsh angling second-favourite Min for a run.
BATTLE TO THE LINE
However, it was Sceau Royal who nipped up his inside and hit the front approaching the last, as Min dropped away tamely.
On jumping the final fence Altior began to stay on, only for Politologue to appear on his outside to challenge, but Nicky Henderson’s stable star, as is his wont, pulled a length and three-quarters clear.
It was a fourth Festival success for Altior after wins in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Arkle and this race last year.
De Boinville said: “What an absolute monster and aren’t we lucky to be in an age where he’s here. We should just celebrate him. He’s a phenomenal athlete – he doesn’t know how to lose.”
Although the finish was closer than many Altior fans would have liked, owner Patricia Pugh always had faith he would win.
She said: "I think he was headed, but we always know that he's going to come back. It was closer than you would like, but he's just such a powerful athlete and he got there in the end."
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Altior and Nico de Boinville win for Nicky Henderson (Photo Healy Racing)
This sixth win in the race for Nicky Henderson equalled trainer Tom Dreaper's record, and it put him back upsides Willie Mullins on 63 wins at the head of The Festivals all-time record.
Relief was his immediate emotion, and the trainer said: "It's nice when it's over. It's like hitting your head against a brick wall. The only nice bit is when it stops.
'When you see the crowd like that around the winner's enclosure it's like going back to the Sprinter Sacre days and it was great that he was here this morning and they gave him a great welcome. How lucky are we, to retire one and then find another. You can't believe it's possible really and it makes it all worthwhile. He's some star.
"They've both done their bits for us, and I think for racing too. It's lovely when people take to horses like that and they genuinely become public horses. We are lucky to have these horses but they come with health warnings."
Asked what was going through his mind when Sceau Royal joined Altior at the last, seemingly going the better, he replied: "I thought 'hells bells we've got trouble here', but it's amazing how he picked up. He knew what he had to do. We'll think about where we go now, but Nico said that more than anything Altior hated the ground. The ground was against him.
"Last year he wasn't ready to come back at Aintree and so we waited for Sandown, and I think that's probably what we'll do, and then we'll sit down over the summer and think about things. But we will seriously think about the King George.
"It's nice to break records, but then you wake up in the night and realise it is insignificant compared to what Winx has done."
Henderson paid tribute to the part played by the team behind Altior at home and to jockey Nico De Boinville.
It was also a career best from second-placed finisher Politologue, according to trainer Paul Nicholls.
He said: "I thought we might run well today. We had one plan, which was to take our time and have one go at Altior from the back of the last, and it went to perfection.
"He's run a career-best, and Altior is a hard horse to beat - we're thrilled with Politologue."