Day two at the Cheltenham Festival: Altior in close finish and 2018 National victor wins by 22 lengths

Superstar chaser Altior claimed his second Grade One Queen Mother Champion Chase today (13 March) at the Cheltenham Festival, holding off his rivals in a close finish.

It was the Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old’s fourth successive win at the Festival and it was his 18th race victory — equalling the record of fellow four-time Festival winner Big Buck’s.

Under Nico de Boinville, the son of High Chaparral, who went off favourite, was challenged either side by Politologue (second) and Sceau Royal (third) at the last.

The eye-catching gelding won by a length and three quarters and the star chaser made harder work of it than expected, although he is renowned for his strong finishes.

His owner Patricia Pugh always had faith in him: “I thought 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.”

It was Nicky Henderson’s sixth win in the race and he equalled trainer Tom Dreaper’s record. It also put him back upsides Willie Mullins on 63 wins at the head of the Festival’s all-time record.

“It’s nice when it’s over,” said Nicky. “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. How lucky are we — to retire one and then find another. Altior is some star.

Tiger’s fierce display

The 2018 Grand National hero Tiger Roll held onto his crown in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase, having won the race 12 months ago.

The Gordon Elliott-trained gelding went off the 5/4 favourite and it was certainly one of his easiest triumphs, beating Josies Orders by an impressive 22 lengths. He tanked through the race under jockey Keith Donoghue and trounced his rivals.

Owner Michael O’Leary of Gigginstown House Stud said: “He’s just an amazing little horse, he comes here every year and it’s phenomenal. I didn’t think it would happen today, but there was never a moment of doubt.

“This is his Gold Cup this year — I’m not sure whether he will go back to the Grand National or not, he’s got a lot more weight. You still pinch yourself — this is a horse we bought as a four-year-old to win a Triumph Hurdle. To do that and come back here to win a slog-fest like this, it’s remarkable.”

He added: “I’d worry about sending him back to Aintree carrying top weight. He barely scraped over the line last year, and he is up 9lb in the ratings. It’s more about minding him now rather than going back to defend the National title. He’s small of frame and he has to carry a lot of weight at Aintree — he’s won a Grand National and owes us nothing.”

Don’t miss the full report from the Cheltenham Festival in the 21 March issue of Horse & Hound, plus read daily round-ups online.