In the process he was winning at the Festival for a third successive year in a third different race – but for a long way it did look like it would be done quite in the manner many expected.
The tacky ground prevented him from travelling with his usual fluency and only two days ago he was lame with a poultice on his foot. Coming down the hill it appeared Nico de Boinville was in deep trouble as Politologue, God’s Own and Min were all seemingly going better. Altior showed the guts of a champion, though, and as De Boinville pulled him out, he clicked into overdrive.
The even-money favourite then flew up his favourite hill to ultimately win in style from Min, providing Nicky Henderson with a record 60th winner at the Festival, with God’s Own running well in the race yet again in third.
The returning Douvan appeared to be enjoying himself on his first run since the same event 12 months ago, but he unfortunately fell before the race really began in earnest.
De Boinville said: “I was in serious trouble the whole way round. It’s not his ground at all. His jumping just kept him in the race. He’s some horse. He’s had a hard race there. He’s some horse to get me out of trouble. He’s exceptional. He’s the best of the best. That was just sensational. Boy, am I lucky to ride him. Everyone loves an Irish banker, but how about an English one?”
The rider reserved special praise for Henderson, saying: “That was a great training performance. To come back from a scare on Monday, that was a great training performance.”
A sweet moment for Nico de Boinville
Henderson, winning the race for the fifth time, said: “We’ve been lucky enough to have been down this road a fair few times. It’s 90 per cent relief, and 10 per cent pure joy. Everybody’s done their bit. It’s been a long winter, but I’ve a team back there who have just done everything
“It’s amazing when you see a horse appreciated like that. He stays this trip very, very well. It does look he’d love another half a mile. Would he get three (miles)? I don’t know. It’s only his second run of the year, so we’ve been playing against the clock a little bit.
“You knew he had a fight on his hands, but he had nowhere to go for a moment. As soon as he saw that daylight he was up and gone very quickly – and he was going to win. The anxiety had gone and he wasn’t going to get caught. I think we’re in ground that doesn’t lend itself to these classy horses, the gear changes and split-second movements, it’s not easy when the ground is like this. When their class is being eliminated a bit because of it, they have to show they are brave as well.”
A tremendous reception awaits Altior from the massed ranks of racegoers
Willie Mullins said of Min and Douvan: “Min 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.
“To me, watching what Douvan was doing at the time, he looked to be back to himself. Patrick (Mullins) looked to be very comfortable. I just hope he wasn’t racing too fresh and that he might not have finished off his race, but Patrick was riding him with huge confidence anyhow. It looks well for the future that we could get him back to himself.”
Tom George said of God’s Own: “I’m proud of him. He didn’t like that ground, but he still put in a good show. The spark is still there and there is another good day in him. It is a credit to him, given the situation he was in. We had to run to get the match practice into him. It bodes well for the future when we get the good ground for him.
“The horse was very fresh and we do train them for this time of year, so it shows he has still got it. I don’t know what the gap is between Aintree and Punchestown and we have got to think carefully. We have got to pick where the ground will be best, as we have got that run into him today.”