For the British racing fans today was all about the remarkable Altior and for the Irish, it was all about Samcro — two unbeatable horses who stamped their authority all over the hallowed Cheltenham turf on day two of the Festival.
Altior’s triumph in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase could have brought even the hardiest of racegoers to tears.
The eight-year-old, who is owned by Patricia Pugh, was sidelined before Christmas following a wind operation and then just a few days before this afternoon’s Champion Chase he was lame with puss in his hoof — not the smoothest of preparations leading up to the big race.
However, going off the evens favourite no one doubted this special horse and he rewarded everyone’s faith with a brilliant win on holding ground that didn’t suit him.
It was another big race victory for his trainer Nicky Henderson, after Buveur D’Air yesterday, and his jockey Nico de Boinville kept his cool when things did not go to plan mid-race.
When Douvan — who was returning after a 364-day break — fell four out when travelling strongly, the door was left open and it was his stablemate, Min, who challenged the eventual winner going up the iconic Cheltenham hill. However, Altior forged clear to win by an impressive seven lengths, making it a 60th Festival victory for his trainer.
“If we had been beaten I wouldn’t have used a sore foot as an excuse. It’s been a tough season and he’s been missing out on races, but he’s so good — he’s just got gears, and Nico was great because they were going a good gallop and he kept calm,” said Nicky.
“He was electric — in behind he wasn’t doing that much, but getting lots of cover and getting a very cool ride. For a second he looked in trouble and I thought ‘this isn’t going to happen’, but as soon as he saw daylight he knew where he was going.
“To find those gears in that ground, off that pace — you have to be pretty good. It was a great race on paper.”
For Nico, it was his second win in the Champion Chase after Sprinter Sacre’s victory in 2016 and he added: “That was a sensational performance. I was in serious trouble the whole way round. He hated the ground — this ground would be the worst he has ever had, it is so dead and tacky, and would not be his ground at all.
“His jumping kept him in the race. He is exceptional and the best of the best. What a superstar he is, and boy, am I lucky to ride him. I know that he has those gears at the end of a race. He’s a freak.”
Samcro flies the flag for the Irish
With the exception of Altior, the Irish dominated day two of the Festival with trainers from the Emerald Isles taking the remaining six races on the card and it was Samcro who stole the show.
The Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old justified favouritism and maintained his unbeaten record when winning the opening Grade One Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle under Jack Kennedy.
It was a confident win, with the pair holding off the Tom George-trained Black Op by 2¾ lengths. The chestnut gelding may now go over fences and is being talked about as a future Gold Cup contender.
Bad news for Ruby
After a brilliant start to the Festival yesterday for Ruby Walsh, on his comeback from injury, today proved desperately frustrating when the jockey took a heavy fall from Al Boum Photo. He was taken to hospital for x-rays — on the same leg he broke previously — and will not be riding for the remainder of the Festival.