Trainer Nicky Henderson was delighted with the performance of Altior after the 5 year old battled well up the hill to get the better of Maputo by half a length in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.
The five-year-old was keen in the early stages but eventually settled nicely and travelled kindly under jockey Nico De Boinville despite being hindered on a number of occasions by Drumlee Sunset, who was running loose after unshipping Richard Johnson just after the start.
Altior jumped the last in front but had to dig deep to repel the challenge of Maputo, who finished lame following the race and was taken by vets to the treatment centre at the racecourse stable.
Henderson revealed after the race that he won’t be in a rush to run the winner again and Altior may have a break now until early next year.
“He’s a baby really,” said the trainer.
“He’s by High Chaparral who is a very good sire. He’s been progressing all the time. To be fair, I know the loose horse was messing everyone around in the end but he was actually helping us a bit as he was giving us a lead.
“He may just have got a bit lonely otherwise as John’s (Ferguson – trainer of Maputo) horse was sitting on our tail all the way. He battled well though. I think Ascot taught him a lot actually. He made a mistake at the last and just got headed at the last but as soon as Nico gave him a flick he was off and gone that day.
“He might be shaping like a horse who might stay a bit further in time but we’ll remain at this trip for the time being although I’m not sure how much more we’ll be doing in the near future.
“He’s had three runs now and he was only running in bumpers last year. So far, it’s been a good start. I don’t know – we’ll see how he comes out of this. He’s got a big future so there’s no big rush. I think those were two high class horse.
“I think the more time he has, the better it will be for him. He was very keen at Ascot and we had ear plugs and ring bits on that day. He’s settled much better today though.
“We were all expecting Philip’s horse (Drumlee Sunset) to make the running and I hope he’s ok and Dickie (Johnson) is ok.”
Trainer Philip Hobbs reported Drumlee Sunset to be none the worse for his fall shortly after the start.
However, Maputo suffered an injury and trainer John Ferguson later confirmed to Course-Specialist that he has been retired.
Nico de Boinville rode the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior to a narrow victory in the opening race. Altior beat Maputo by half a length in an incident-packed race; Richard Johnson was unseated just after the start from Drumlee Sunset and the loose horse caused interference throughout the contest.
De Boinville said: “As soon as we set off Dickie’s horse [Drumlee Sunset] shied at the tapes and our lead, which we all wanted, had gone, so it was playing it by ear then.
“I’ve always had a real soft spot for this horse; I’ve always loved him, and it was nice to see him put his head down and battle to the line. Maputo is a very smart horse in his own right.”
Asked how difficult it was to avoid the loose horse, he said: “You’ve got to have your wits about you and your spatial awareness on, but it was fine and we handled it. He [Altior] has been very keen in the past, but he’s got the earplugs and ring-bit on and they definitely helped.
“I think the loose horse helped a bit in the closing stages because we always had something to aim for, but Altior could also see Maputo come up to him, and he eyeballed him and went on again.”