Even the mud can­not stop un­beaten Altior

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Mar­cus Army­tage at Sandown Park

RAC­ING

The jump sea­son has been stymied into De­cem­ber by a lack of rain and when it ar­rived, in hor­i­zon­tal squalls which sent book­mak­ers’ um­brel­las cart- wheeling across the ring at Sandown yes­ter­day, Altior and Un De Sceaux duly served up a Bet­fair Tin­gle Creek for the ages.

Some cham­pi­ons do not like get­ting their feet muddy and heavy ground, opened up by the heavy rain, was new ter­ri­tory for Altior, un­beaten in nine starts over fences be­fore this race.

But ev­ery time the mud­lark, Un De Sceaux, and master tac­ti­cian, Ruby Walsh, tried to ask a ques­tion of Nicky Hen­der­son’s eight-year-old in the last mile, Altior al­ways had an an­swer and, though the pair were in the air to­gether at the last three fences, the reign­ing cham­pion just had too much class for his game Ir­ish op­po­nent and ran out a four-length win­ner up the hill.

Even Hen­der­son reck­oned it was one of Altior’s finest per­for­mances. “It’s a re­lief,” ad­mit­ted the trainer. “We’ve al­ways ummed and ah­hed about soft ground with him but that was proper hard-work ground and Ruby made it tough for him but he couldn’t make it tough enough.”

He added that though Altior has been left in the King Ge­orge on Box­ing Day, if he goes to Kemp­ton it will more than likely be for the Desert Orchid. “I’ve al­ways said the King’s Stand is more likely than the King Ge­orge,” he joked. “There’s only one race we want and that’s the Cham­pion Chase and we can come back here for the Cel­e­bra­tion Chase at the end of the sea­son if we don’t go to Ain­tree.”

His jockey, Nico de Boinville, said: “Ruby re­ally went out and made that a Cham­pi­onship gal­lop – all credit to Un De Sceaux for keep­ing go­ing af­ter the gal­lop he set and he’s been round for a long time. But ul­ti­mately it set it up for Altior and his fin­ish­ing kick.

“He made a small mis­take at the first ditch which woke him up a bit and I was pleased that he danced over the next. He felt fan­tas­tic. That was a good gal­lop on good ground let alone the heavy but I was al­ways happy track­ing Un De Sceaux and once we’d jumped the Rail­way fences I was very happy. When he gets to an­other horse’s girth he goes – great cham­pi­ons do that.”

Walsh said: “He ran his heart out and ran super but I’ve never been a great loser and I ain’t any bet­ter now.”

Ear­lier in the novice equiv­a­lent, the Ran­dox­health.com Henry VIII Novice Chase, the Paul Ni­cholls-trained Dy­na­mite Dol­lars re­versed the Chel­tenham Novem­ber form with Lalor when he col­lared Henry de Brom­head’s ex­cit­ing front-run­ning Or­nua half­way up the run-in to win by a length and three quar­ters with Lalor back in third.

Ni­cholls will now aim the win­ner at Kemp­ton’s Way­ward Lad Novice Chase just af­ter Christ­mas.

At Ain­tree, the 2017 Grand Na­tional win­ner, One For Arthur, only got as far as the third on his come­back be­fore all but fall­ing and un­seat­ing Tom Scu­d­amore in the Bet­way Many Clouds Chase. The race went to the odds-on favourite Definitly Red.

The Becher Chase, over the Grand Na­tional fences, was won by the Robert Wal­ford-trained Walk In The Mill, owned by Baroness Dido Hard­ing.

Cham­pion show: Altior, rid­den by Nico de Boinville, af­ter clear­ing the last in his vic­tory yes­ter­day

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