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Cheltenham Icons: A look at Altior's career

Altior became that rarest of National Hunt beasts as he racked up a 19-race unbeaten sequence over jumps and won at four successive Cheltenham Festivals in doing so.

He was the darling of Nicky Henderson's eye following the retirement of Sprinter Sacre and, perhaps, the horse that really helped to cement Nico de Boinville's status as top jockey at Seven Barrows and one of the best in the business. 

With such a long unbeaten sequence comes immense pressure on trainer, jockey and horse to keep it going and the team responsible for Altior certainly answered every call.

Horse Racing

De Boinville gets first look

Though their careers would take some time to truly intertwine, it was Nico de Boinville that had the job of steering Altior on his racecourse bow at Market Rasen in May 2014.

They were odds-on and easily won a low-grade bumper that afternoon, the first of many successes together.

Altior, with Barry Geraghty on board, would finish third in a Listed bumper at Newbury won by Barters Hill in February 2015 on his second start, while his third outing in that sphere came in the Champion Bumper at the Punchestown Festival later that spring. 

On that occasion with Jessica Harrington's daughter, Kate, on board, they finished sixth in a race won by Bellshill and Patrick Mullins.

It was, though, over jumps that Altior would write his name into racing folklore.

Supreme glory with Min effort

Henderson sent Altior out for his first jumping test at Chepstow in October 2015 and, once more, de Boinville was back in the plate as they won in a common canter at the Welsh venue.

They were made to work a little harder at Ascot three weeks later but emerged unscathed and did so again in a Cheltenham Grade 2 Supreme Trial in November.

Another smooth success came at Kempton on Boxing Day and, from there, it was full steam ahead to the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March of 2016.

Min was the favourite for Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins, in a field that also included Henderson's subsequent dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D'air, but Altior was too good by some seven-lengths under De Boinville for that pair in second and third.

That was his final start over hurdles and he ended with a handsome 5-5 record and a major air of anticipation once connections had confirmed their plan was to go chasing.

Peerless novice chasing campaign sets tone

It wasn't a sign of things to come, but Altior was a busy boy in his novice chasing season, recording six wins from November to April in 2017.

Noel Fehily was on board for the first three of those, bloodless wins at Kempton and Sandown up until Christmas, before De Boinville returned for the Game Spirit at Newbury in February.

Another facile win there sent him into the Arkle at Cheltenham as the 1/4fav for glory and there were no moments of concern as he came home six lengths clear of Cloudy Dream.

There was even time to end that novice season with a move into open company and a win in the bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown as Altior stamped himself down as the two-mile chasing king.

Champion Chase win confirms superstar status

Altior underwent a wind op as he sat out 287 days between April 2017 and February 2018. A second Game Spirit success at Newbury underlined his continued well-being and, from there, to the Cotswolds and another clash with Min.

The Mullins inmate had won a Grade 2 at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival a month earlier but, once more, was powerless to stop Altior in the Champion Chase as Henderson's star left his rivals strung out behind in another sublime demolition.

He finished off with another Celebration Chase success at Sandown on the final afternoon of the jumps season and, despite a shortened campaign, was now the biggest name in National Hunt racing.

Untouchable en route to fourth Cheltenham Festival win

The 2018/19 season was perhaps Altior's best. He beat the powerhouse Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek at Sandown on his comeback in a heavyweight tussle and would add the Desert Orchid at Kempton and the Clarence House At Ascot by mid-January.

At Cheltenham, he briefly looked under some pressure when Politologue and Sceau Royal got on terms with him jumping the last but Altior showed his will to win and forged back in front close home to win a second Queen Mother Champion Chase.

For the third season on the trot, he signed off by winning the bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown in April and, when he did, he had incredibly won all 19 starts over jumps. 

Remember the Cyrname as Altior loses perfect record

The 1965 Chase at Ascot in November 2019 was billed as a duel between Altior and Cyrname, the Paul Nicholls-trained Ascot specialist that was, like Altior, at one time rated the best chaser in Britain.

Despite their lofty statuses, few really expected Altior to get beaten but the softened ground caught him out, while Henderson later lamented running in the race, calling it a "disaster" and "the wrong place, on the wrong ground, over the wrong trip".

Plans to run in the King George that season were shelved after Ascot and while he won the Game Spirit again at Newbury, he was an 11th-hour absentee from the Champion Chase in 2020 and never got the chance to try and equal Badsworth Boy's record of three wins in the showpiece contest.

Altior was beaten by Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid at Kempton the following Christmas and bowed out by finishing second to Greaneteen in the Celebration Chase back at Sandown in April 2021.

He will always be remembered as a great, though, having won on 21 of his 26 career starts, a record that includes an incredible 10 Grade 1 races and four victories at the Cheltenham Festival.

Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.

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