Altior – a horse of a generation
Gary McKenzie pays tribute to the newly retired Altior – a horse of a generation
The Irish, and Willie Mullins in particular, usually have one lined up for the Supreme Novices Hurdle which kicks off the Cheltenham Festival.
In 2016 Min came into the race having won his first two hurdle races in Ireland by an aggregate of 14 lengths. He was a strong favourite.
But I always look for a bit of value. I had seen a horse win at Kempton the previous Boxing Day (beating a Mullins horse) by a very impressive looking 13 lengths.
I managed to get 7/1 the week before the race and Altior went into my Cheltenham yankee.
He won the Supreme by seven lengths from Min. Other horses well behind in that race included Supasundae, Petite Mouchoir, and Buveur D’air (who went on an eleven race winning streak after that defeat).
How good would he be?
Altior had run his last race for the season, and also his last hurdle race. He was always going to be a chaser. But how good would he be?
Well, he went through his novice chasing season unbeaten, winning both the Henry VIII at Sandown and the Arkle at Cheltenham. His shortest winning margin was six lengths (he did win a match race by 63 lengths) and his biggest starting price was 3/10!
He was just so dominant
He was just so dominant. He finished his novice season in open company beating Special Tiara in the Celebration Chase by eight lengths.
Special Tiara had won the Queen Mother Champion Chase the month before and was always at his best in the spring. But he was dismissed by the youngster.
It was more of the same in the 2017/18 season with Altior starting at prohibitive odds and winning fairly easily. His big target was the Champion Chase.
He actually went off at evens that day and he again beat Min by seven lengths in a repeat of the Supreme two years earlier.
There will be some who think that the result may have been different had Douvan not fallen four out. We can, of course, discuss what may have been but the fences are there to be jumped.
And Altior was usually pretty good at that. He won his second Celebration Chase to round off his second perfect season.
Such was his dominance that he was scaring off the opposition. Apart from at Cheltenham he never ran against more than five rivals. His first race of the 2018/19 season was the Tingle Creek and only three others showed up.
Altior was four lengths too good for Un De Sceaux despite making an early mistake.
His second Champion Chase win was a lot closer with Politologue less than two lengths behind at the line.
Was our hero losing some of his stellar ability?
Was our hero losing some of his stellar ability? He was still winning but the margins were making him look less than invincible. He had a second dose of wind surgery in the summer of 2019 and his first race the following season was memorable.
Only three runners started the 1965 Chase at Ascot. Altior was the odds on favourite but he would be running over two miles five furlongs for the first time. In fact he had only gone more than two miles once.
There had been calls for him to run in the King George so connections decided to test his stamina with this intermediate distance.
Cyrname had won the Grade One Ascot Chase beating Waiting Patiently, Politologue, and Fox Norton by the ridiculous margin of by seventeen lengths.
Before that he had won a handicap, over the same course and distance, by twenty one lengths. He was giving the runner up ten pounds.
Cyrname made the running with Altior tracking him all the way. Many were expecting Altior to pick up the leader and Nico De Boinville did make his move two out. But he just could not close.
Cyrname put in a good jump at the last and was a couple of lengths clear at the line.
To these eyes I don’t think the trip was the problem. The going was soft (the time was slower than average) but I just think the winner was the better horse on the day.
Cyrname finished second in the King George on his next run but has failed to complete in three of his next four runs.
Altior won the Game Spirit next but was only seen twice more on a racecourse finishing second behind horses who, at his best, he would have sauntered past.
Did that Ascot race bottom both horses?
Did that Ascot race bottom both horses? Neither has run to the same level as before what was effectively a match.
It was Altiors first defeat over obstacles following a 19-race winning streak.
He has now been retired by Nicky Henderson.
He won well over a million pounds and was a four time festival winner. Twenty wins and three seconds from 23 runs over hurdles and fences surely deserves respect. He had an RPR of 183 at his best.
But I’m not sure he gets the love the likes of Moscow Flyer or Masterminded enjoy. Or even a Cue Card. It is hard to pin it down.
He wasn’t as flashy as some two milers. Maybe the fact he was so obviously better than the rest it became routine.
Could the fact he was sometimes a late withdrawal from big races that irked people? But that is not the horse’s fault is it?
You can argue, possibly, that his opposition was not the same level as some of the greats rivals and when he met a very good horse in Cyrname he was beaten.
But I hardly think Un De Sceaux, Special Tiara, Min, and Politologue are second raters.
I think he also suffers for coming from the same stable as Sprinter Sacre, and only a few years after him.
I got a real kick from watching him
I enjoyed watching him. And I got a real kick from watching him in that Supreme five years ago.
He will now live with Mick Fitzgerald and may be retrained. But whatever happens I reckon he will have a lovely retirement. Rest easy old lad.
Thanks for the memories.