By Andy Stephens at Cheltenham
One of the distinguishing features of Altior are the grey strands of hair in his tail.
Those closest to him, plus his ever growing fan club, will end up with plenty of silver flecks themselves if he carries on winning races in the manner that he took a thrilling Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.
For much of the two-mile showpiece the equine heavyweight’s flawless record over jumps looked in tatters.
After 12 straight knockouts, he was up against the ropes and seemingly struggling to keep up with his rivals.
Politologue, God's Own, Min and even Ordinary World were all travelling much better and on Betfair the Evens favourite, whose participation had briefly been in doubt on Monday when he was lame, was matched at more than 7-1.
But then, bam!
Altior produced a punch that sent those who dared to puncture his unblemished record to different corners of the Cotswolds.
Nico De Boinville had been pushing, shoving and kicking for what seemed an age before Altior engaged turbo and powered clear for an unlikely seven-length triumph. As it transpired, it also prevented an Irish whitewash on day two.
"I was in serious trouble the whole way round,” De Boinville admitted. “He was hating the ground. It is so dead and tacky, it would not be for him at all.
“His jumping kept him in it. He is exceptional and the best of the best. That was just sensational - what a superstar he is. I know that he has those gears at the end of a race. He’s a freak.”
In the past De Boinville has been reluctant to compare Altior with Sprinter Sacre, the Henderson titan who also won two Champion Chases - the second time with him on his back.
But this time the rider did give a summary of their contrasting attributes.
“He and Sprinter Sacre are very different,” he said. “Sprinter always did the best of his work between three out and two out, whereas Altior does it at the end, so you can afford to hold on a bit longer with him.
“It’s quite hard to peg them back in ground like this but with his turn of foot, he’s done it like a hot knife through butter.”
It is now a case of two down and one to go for Nicky Henderson, who will become the first trainer to saddle the winners of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same week if Might Bite, who heads a final field of 18, triumphs in the highlight of the whole meeting on Friday.
“It’s funny how champions come around in the same breath, but I feel they help each other,” he said. “If you have good horses they make good horses.
“This horse is very, very good. I always said he had very big shoes to fill but each time he wins he gets closer to doing that.
“We will never forget Sprinter, who tugged at heartstrings in a way this horse might never do, but if he comes back here in 12 months and wins again he might.
“Sprinter was such a show-off and a swank, and he won this race by a distance, although I’m not sure he beat horses as good as the runners in today’s race.”
So what did Altior beat?
Min was left trailing by seven lengths - the same distance he had been beaten by him in the Supreme Novices Hurdle two years ago, and had been a smooth Grade One winner at Leopardstown last month.
God’s Own avoided the errors that can sometimes hinder him but was beaten by 18 lengths. Politologue, winner of this season’s Haldon Gold Cup, Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid Chase, was another five behind him.
Perhaps Douvan would have been in the mix had he not suffered a crashing fall four out when racing exuberantly in the lead.
Up until that point he had not put a foot wrong and the powers that helped him win 14 successive races - up until his eclipse in this race last year when he was injured - seemed intact.
"To me, watching what Douvan was doing at the time, he looked to be back to himself,” trainer Willie Mullins said. “He was absolutely cantering, jumping great and then he over-jumped and just caught the top of it. Maybe there will be Punchestown for him.”
Of Min, he added: "He ran a terrific race, he was going away from the third and fourth horse and just met a superstar on the day. It was a tremendous training performance from Nicky and the horse.
"We did well to finish second. Paul (Townend) gave him a fantastic ride, he came through at the right time and it looked like the winner was beaten but he just found another gear going up the hill.”
While all the drama was unfolding, Ruby Walsh, was at hospital getting the news he dreaded - that a fall in the earlier RSA Chase had, in his words, "opened the fracture at the back".
The 38-year-old, who had ridden a double on Tuesday and been top rider at the Festival 11 times, says he will not know the full extent of the damage until Tuesday.
The racing community will be united in wishing him well.
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