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Published: 17:31 | 14/3/18

Altior the Champion as Douvan falls


Altior made it three successive Cheltenham Festival successes as he landed the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase to maintain his unbeaten run over fences.

Sent off the even-money favourite, Altior did not travel with his usual fluency and those who had backed the market leader were made to sweat as he looked to be in trouble on the heavy ground.

Up front Douvan was running a strong race under Patrick Mullins but the much-anticipated battle with Altior failed to materialise when he crashed out at the fourth last.

Politologue, God's Own and Min were all travelling strongly coming down the hill but Nico De Boinville got Altior back into the mix and Nicky Henderson's charge showed his class as he took it up before pulling away from Min to score by

 "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?"

Henderson added: "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."

Douvan's early exit deprived punters of a potential clash with Altior but trainer Willie Mullins was pleased with what he saw.

"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," he said.

Of Min, the Irish handler added: "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."

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The day got off to flyer for the Irish as Samcro, the banker of the Festival, claiming the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle for Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy.

Unbeaten in six starts, Samcro was sent off the 8-11 favourite and the result never really looked to be in danger as Kennedy cruised into contention in the final bend.

Black Op tried to go after him and, while he did managed to close on the leader, he was still two and three-quarter lengths adrift at the line.

"It's a big team effort from everyone at home, and it worked out great today. There was a lot of pressure, for Jack, for me - for everyone, the whole team. I'm delighted, it's brilliant," Elliott said.

"He looks a very exciting horse and we are very lucky to have him. Michael O'Leary loves his big chasers, but I wouldn't be afraid to bring him back in trip. He has loads of pace. He only comes awake when the race gets going and he is asleep the first half of the race. When he got to the front, he pulled up again.

"I will have to speak with Michael and Eddie (O'Leary), but he has definitely got the class and speed to stay over hurdles. He was bought to be a chaser and Colin Bowe, who trained him for his point to point, recommended him strongly to us. He is a very good horse."

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There was further joy for the Irish in the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase with Presenting Percy following up his win in the Pertemps Final.

Davy Russell was happy to let his mount settle towards the rear of the field and he played a waiting game before cruising into lead at the second last.

Monalee had no answer as the favourite bounded up the hill to score by seven lengths with Elegant Escape benefitting from Al Boum Photo's second-last fall to claim third.

"I've underestimated this horse all along. People have really latched on to him. He's unimpressive to me, but, by God, he's some horse. Sometimes you're a fool and sometimes you're a hero, but it all worked out today. I've nothing but praise for the man (trainer Pat Kelly), he's a genius. We'll enjoy today," Russell commented.

There was a sad outcome to the races as Ruby Walsh had to be helped from the track following his fall from Al Boum Photo.

He was taken for an x-ray amid reports he suffered a broken leg less than a week after returning from a similar injury.

"He's been taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg. It's a shame and I hope he's OK," owner Rich Ricci said. "It looks like it's the same leg."

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Tiger Roll provided Gordon Elliott with his second winner of the day by landing the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase.

A previous winner of the Triumph Hurdle and National Hunt Chase, the eight-year-old travelled brilliantly throughout and had little trouble fending off the challenge of French challenger Urgent De Gregaine.

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Image: Getty Images/Michael Steele

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