• Nico de Boinville rides Altior to 15th straight victory
• Nicky Henderson: ‘As good a performance as he has ever done’
The elements and a select band of opponents did all they could to end Altior’s winning streak at 14 but he responded with what Nicky Henderson, his trainer, called “as good a performance as he’s ever done”. Many exceptional two-milers have won the Tingle Creek Chase over the past four decades but Altior is one of the very best.
Altior has rarely, if ever, raced on ground as soft as he faced here, and a downpour as the four runners were going to the start added to its demands. His three rivals, meanwhile, included the frontrunners Saint Calvados and Un De Sceaux, which guaranteed a searching pace.
Altior, though, was still heavily backed to maintain his unbeaten record over jumps and set off at 8-13, an odds-on chance for the eighth time in his nine starts in chases. Bookies hoping for a result knew that their best chance lay with Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh, who took sole charge of the lead on the way to the Railway fences on the far side, and for a while, the 2016 Tingle Creek winner was jumping so quickly and galloping with such purpose that Altior appeared to be heading for a battle in the closing stages.
When Nico de Boinville made his move on the run to the last, however, the response from Altior was immediate and decisive. The two horses were in the air together at the last, but Altior’s finishing kick, only slightly blunted by the conditions, soon carried him four lengths clear.
“Today was proper, proper hard work and Ruby set a gallop,” Henderson said. “We knew he was going to and he made it as tough as he could. But this is an amazing horse and he couldn’t make it too tough for him.
“He was fit, he had to be as they were going to test us. It was first time out, a proper gallop in that ground and a proper race. Ruby when he’s dictating, he has the race in his pocket and you’ve got to work it out, and Nico did it beautifully. There was no point attacking too far out, he waited and took his time. You can’t change gear in that ground and when he’s got there, he’s gone away well.”
De Boinville’s face and silks were still mud-splattered as spoke about the race. “That rain really opened the ground up,” he said. “It was a championship pace, which really sorted us out. It just set up the race nicely for us, we always seem to have a kick at the end and when you reach a hill in that ground as well, he just seemed to go into overdrive.”
Altior was an even-money chance when he took last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham but is now odds-on for a repeat at around 4-6.
Next year’s Tingle Creek is already among the targets for Dynamite Dollars, who stayed on strongly to overhaul the frontrunner Ornua in the closing stages of the Henry VIII Chase, the first Grade One novice chase of the season. Dynamite Dollars had seven lengths to find with Lalor, the favourite, on their running when second and first respectively in a Grade Two at Cheltenham last month and Lalor’s failure to run up to that form – he was beaten by the last – allowed Harry Cobden to pick his moment to power past Ornua on the run-in.
“When they’re five years old and on a roll, they can improve and end up anywhere,” Paul Nicholls, the winner’s trainer, said. “The physical improvement from year to year can be astonishing and I think he’ll keep going forward, so he’s an exciting horse.”
The Grand National fences at Aintree were jumped for the first time this season as Walk In The Mill and Warriors Tale emerged as the winners of the Becher Chase and Grand Sefton Chase respectively. Both horses attracted quotes of around 33-1 for the National in April, when the track will hope that the start of the big race is more organised than the proceedings before the start of the Becher Chase.
Ten of the 18 riders were reported to the stewards for causing a false start but only one – Jack Kennedy – was found in breach of the rules, receiving a one-day suspension.