Cheltenham 2019: Magic 18 for 'Monster' Altior in Champion Chase
Trainer Nicky Henderson's brilliant star Altior justified odds of 2/5 to extend his unbeaten record to 18 wins by landing his second Champion Chase crown at the Cheltenham Festival.
Soft ground was against the nine-year-old, who gave plenty of scares throughout the 2m test, taking long strides and short, but when it mattered, he came up for jockey Nico De Boinville.
The rider said: "The soft ground wasn't ideal. We were just slighlty coming unstuck on that ground. We had a bit of mis-communication at the water jumpe, when he wanted to go long and I wanted him to come in a pop, because I didn't want him to get too exuberant over those fences and waste too much energy."
He added: "He's an absolute monster, a warrior. He's just a phenomneal athlete. I think he doesn't know how to lose at the moment. Aren't we lucky to be in his era. Let's celebrate him."
Greatest Of All-Time
The victory was Henderson's 63rd Cheltenham Festival win, putting him level with Willie Mullins on top of the all-time best Cheltenham trainers list, with plenty of chances left, but his feeling was of relief.
"It's like hitting your head against a brick wall," he said. "The only nice bit is when it stops. You can't believe it's really possible and it makes it all worthwhile. He's some star."
Last year Altior had beaten Min by a wide-margin in the CHampion CHase, this year he looked in danger of defeat at the last fence when Sceau Royal came to join the defending champion.
"I thought 'hells bells we've got trouble here'," remembered Henderson. "But it's amazing how he picked up. He knew what he had to do."
King George In Altior Future
Connections of Altior have spoken about stepping Altior up to 3m for the King Georg VI Chase at Kempton before, Nicky Henderson saying in his pre-Cheltenham Stable Tour that this could be the year. On Wednesday he reiterated that.
"Last year he wasn't ready to come back and run at Aintree and so we waited for Sandown, and I hink that's what we'll probably do, and then we'll sit down over the summer and think about things," said Henderson. "But we will seriously think about the King George."
Topofthegame 7/1 for 2020 Gold Cup
Topofthegame was cut to 7/1 was for the 2020 Cheltenham Cup on Wednesday, after his RSA Chase win at the Cheltenham Festival prompted trainer Paul Nicholls to declare him better than Denman.
Sent off at 4/1, in the colours of 2008 Gold Cup winner Denman, the seven-year-old crept into the race under jockey Harry Cobden, only hitting the front after the last fence.
The 15/8 favourite Delta Work could not go with the winner and runner-up Santini after that, staying on gamely to be third as Topofthegame won by half a length.
He went straight to the top of Unibet's 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup betting, opening at 8/1, and then being clipped into 7/1 as trainer Nicholls, himself a four-time Gold Cup winner, announced that was the target.
He said: "I've always thought he'd be a Gold Cup horse, and I was just a bit worried that we'd start next season a maiden. We might go to Aintree with him now, then we'll train him as a Gold Cup horse next season."
"He's not unlike his owner Paul Barber's old horse Denman," he added. "He's very similar except he's probably got more boot than Denman. He was an out-and-out slogger, this horse has actually got a touch of class and travels and jumps, and is very exciting. "
Topofthegame has not won a chase before, finishing second at Exeter on debut, and again at Kempton last time out, when stepped up to Grade 1 company for the Kauto Star Novices' Chase. That was the race that earned him his Cheltenham place for Nicholls.
"He travelled really, really well in the Kauto Star race," said the trainer, "and we just had to get him here in top form without a run after that. He's always showed us plenty. The Coral Cup run last year with top weight was a good run, and he's a real high-class chaser.
"He learnt a lot from Kempton, Harry Cobden realised he got there too soon. He's still a big baby in front, but he wasn't today. Harry was always saving him. He got a brilliant jump at the last and just does enough, which is what you want in a horse."
'Precocious' City Island Impresses In Ballymore
Grand National-winning trainer Martin Brassil remarkably won his first Cheltenham Festival race on Wednesday, when City Island landed the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at odds of 8/1.
The six-year-old was just Brassil's third runner at Cheltenham in his 25 years of training racehorses, his biggest success coming instead at Aintree with Numbersixvalverde in the 2006 Grand National. Nevertheless, victory at Cheltenham had been a lifelong ambition.
"I wanted to bring the horse here unbeaten and then we though we might have a chance of doing something good," he said. "He's a precocious sort of horse cmpared to some of those big, strong chasing types, and he'd pleased us every time."
Another day, another Grade 1 winner for Mark Walsh at The Festival™ presented by @MagnersUK...— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) March 13, 2019
City Island is the 2019 @Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle champion!#CheltenhamFestival pic.twitter.com/Em3vjEIoHO
He added: "I liked him from the first time we did a swinging canter with him. He was weak enough and we gave him time. "
Cheltenham victory had also been a dream for City Island's owner Sean Mulryan, whose company sponsored the race they finally won.
"It's a dream come true," he said. "Martin is fantastic. He aimed the horse at this race all season and gave him an easy campaign, so he was fresh."
Mark Walsh: He's Stayers' Hurdle Material
Jockey Mark Walsh, who rode runaway Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D'Allen on Tuesday, got his double on City Island, and suggested the Stayers' Hurdle could be next year's target.
He beat 9/2 chance Champ by two lengths, with fast-finishing 25/1 shot Bright Forecast back in third, showing good stamina at the end of the 2m5f Grade 1.
Walsh said: "They went a good gallop and I was happy with my position the whole way. I got a nice run through to the second-last and he went on up the hill.
"I don't think he's quick enough for a Champion Hurdle, but he will definitely stay three mules and I can see him being a possible Stayers' Hurdle type. He's a chaser for the future."
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