Altior (4/11 favourite) returned to emotional scenes and two spontaneous rounds of 'three cheers' after possibly the most dramatic win of his career in the G1 Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday, in which he looked in serious trouble when challenged on either side by Sceau Royal and Politologue at the last.
It was his second win in the race and his fourth successive victory at the Festival, and in winning he added two significant records to his extraordinary CV. It was his 13th successive win over fences, claiming outright the world record for the longest winning sequence over fences, and his 18th Jump race victory, equalling the record of fellow four-time Festival winner Big Buck's.
In winning by a length and three quarters and the same from Politologue and Sceau Royal, the Nico de Boinville-ridden chaser made harder work of it than expected, but he is renowned for his strong finish and owner Patricia Pugh always had faith in him.
She said: "I think he was headed, but we always know that he's going to come back. It was closer than you would like, but he's just such a powerful athlete and he got there in the end."
This sixth win in the race for Nicky Henderson equalled trainer Tom Dreaper's record, and it put him back upsides Willie Mullins on 63 wins at the head of The Festivals all-time record.
Relief was his immediate emotion, and the trainer said: "It's nice when it's over. It's like hitting your head against a brick wall. The only nice bit is when it stops.
'When you see the crowd like that around the winner's enclosure it's like going back to the Sprinter Sacre days and it was great that he was here this morning and they gave him a great welcome. How lucky are we, to retire one and then find another. You can't believe it's possible really and it makes it all worthwhile. He's some star.
"They've both done their bits for us, and I think for racing too. It's lovely when people take to horses like that and they genuinely become public horses. We are lucky to have these horses but they come with health warnings."
Altior and Nico de Boinville salute, picture Cheltenham Racecourse
Asked what was going through his mind when Sceau Royal joined Altior at the last, seemingly going the better, he replied: "I thought 'hells bells we've got trouble here', but it's amazing how he picked up. He knew what he had to do. We'll think about where we go now, but Nico said that more than anything Altior hated the ground. The ground was against him.
"Last year he wasn't ready to come back at Aintree and so we waited for Sandown, and I think that's probably what we'll do, and then we'll sit down over the summer and think about things. But we will seriously think about the King George.
"It's nice to break records, but then you wake up in the night and realise it is insignificant compared to what Winx has done."
Henderson paid tribute to the part played by the team behind Altior at home and to jockey Nico De Boinville.
He said: "The whole team is what it is all about and they have been brilliant. Their real work was getting Santini here whereas this fellow has been more straightforward this year.
"Nico started with us as an amateur and he was known as Sprinter's work rider. That's where he made his name, but now he's made it right and properly at the top, as he did look in trouble."
Nico De Boinville was full of praise for the mighty Altior who equalled Big Buck's' record of 18 straight wins.
Nicky Henderson's charge, the 4/11 favourite, tracked the pacesetter Saint Calvados in the early stages of the two-mile event, but made a bad mistake at the water jump midway through the contest.
Heading the field turning for home, the nine-year-old son of High Chaparral was challenged by the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue (11/1) and Alan King's Sceau Royal (16/1) in the home straight.
Altior put in a slow leap at the last and was headed on the run for home. However, despite looking in trouble, the nine-year-old son of High Chaparral displayed his trademark grit and tenacity to rally strongly up the Cheltenham hill and come clear to score by a length and three-quarters in the two-mile chasing championship. Politologue finished second, with a further length and three-quarters back to Sceau Royal in third.
De Boinville registering his third victory in the race overall (Sprinter Sacre 2016 & Altior 2018), was effusive in his praise of Altior, who now holds the outright world record for the longest winning sequence over fences with a 13th success. The gelding also took his earnings well past the £1-million mark with today's success.
De Boinville registering a ninth success at The Festival in total and a 38.5/1 double following William Henry's 28/1 success in the Coral Cup earlier this afternoon, said: "Altior is an absolutely warrior. We were just slightly coming unstuck on that ground. We had a bit of a miss-communication at the water jump, when he wanted to go long and I wanted him to come in and pop because I didn't want him to get too exuberant over those fences and waste too much energy.
"We definitely went half a length down after the last, but he just seemed to find this extra gear. I don't know where it comes from - he is just a phenomenal athlete. I think he doesn't know how to lose at the moment. Long may it continue!
"I think everyone wanted to do us a tow and come and have one go at us, so I had nothing in front of me. It's not ideal - as you saw at Ascot, Altior is not the best out in front but he can do it if he wants to. Luckily, Gavin Sheehan [Saint Calvados] went on and gave me a bit of a tow but I would say that we were just dossing slightly. I jumped the last and you just keep kicking. I trust in that gear and we will know when that extra gear is not there because it won't happen like that. We will have to see - maybe the sharpness of the track is not suited to him as well but the ground was definitely not ideal."
The prospect of stepping Altior up in trip has been a talking point all season and De Boinville hinted at the possibility in the future, commenting: "I will leave stepping up in trip to the guv'nor but I think the owners might want to give it a go at some stage.
"I was watching how he came in, the crowd that came out to see him, and the cheer he got. I think we are getting to the level of Sprinter Sacre - the public are really warming to him and I think he lit up The Festival this year. I don't think that I rode Sprinter Sacre at his peak but I am riding Altior at his peak and, for me, he is the best I have ridden. I can breathe a sigh of relief now. I am going to enjoy today - I thought Wednesday was my day and I have had a third, a second and a couple of winner, so it has been a good day all round. Altior ranks right up there. I am not going take anything away from past champions, who can forget Master Minded coming up that hill and Sprinter Sacre, but what a horse Altior is. We are lucky to be in an age where he is here. I think we should celebrate him."
Politologue's second place behind Altior was the best run of the John Hales-owned eight-year-old grey's career, said his trainer Paul Nicholls.
Politologue finished a length and three-quarters behind Altior at odds of 11/1.
"I thought we might run well today," said Nicholls, who has won the race five times (Call Equiname 1999, Azertyuiop 2004, Master Minded 2008 and 2009, Dodging Bullets 2015).
"We had one plan, which was to take our time and have one go at Altior from the back of the last, and it went to perfection. He's run a career-best, and Altior is a hard horse to beat - we're thrilled with Politologue.
"I did think we were going to get there at one point, but as I say, a career-best and we're thrilled with him."
Harry Cobden, Politologue's jockey, said: "I was beginning to get excited up the run-in for a minute - I thought I was going to get there, but every champion can pull out a bit more, and that's exactly what Altior did. But we're delighted with our horse. Looking at the betting you'd think we'd finish fourth or fifth, and he's run a screamer."
Willie Mullins, trainer of the fifth-placed 7/2 chance Min (Ruby Walsh), said: "Min is fine. Different tactics didn't work, that is all. It is back to the drawing board."
Altior's victory was made more memorable by two supporting players.
They were runner-up Politologue (11/1) and third-placed Sceau Royal (16/1), who sandwiched mighty Altior (4/11f) in a three-way leap at the last, and made him reach for his last reserves before scoring by one and three-quarters of a length and the same.
Sceau Royal landed inches ahead of Altior over the final fence, and his jockey, Daryl Jacob, said: "He ran a terrific race and there was a point when I was getting quite excited, but then Altior pulled away, which is what he does."
Alan King, who trains Altior for Isaac Souede and Simon Munir, said: "It was a great performance and we became very, very excited running to the last fence - I'm thrilled with him.
"We could have done without the rain yesterday, but that's by the by and he's run a mighty race. To be beaten by a champion like that is no disgrace, and the stamina kicks in with Altior - he's a machine.
"We'll take our horse to Aintree next. He's only had four runs this season and we'll probably stick him up to two and a half miles and meet Altior again. I'm not looking forward to that, but there we are."
Harry Fry, who trained fourth-placed Hell's Kitchen, said: "It hasn't been plain sailing with him since he won at Ascot in December. In the days that followed we knew he had improved for that and we couldn't be more pleased. We have learned a lot out there today and we now look forward to Aintree's Melling Chase."
3:30pm Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y £400,000
1 Altior (IRE) 9 11 10 Nicky Henderson Patricia Pugh Nico de Boinville 4/11 Fav
2 Politologue (FR) h,ts 8 11 10 Paul Nicholls John Hales Harry Cobden 11/1
3 Sceau Royal (FR) 7 11 10 Alan King Simon Munir & Isaac Souede Daryl Jacob 16/1
4 Hell's Kitchen h,ts 8 11 10 Harry Fry J P McManus Barry Geraghty 25/1
5 Min (FR) 8 11 10 Willie Mullins IRE Susannah Ricci Ruby Walsh 7/2
6 Castlegrace Paddy (IRE) 8 11 10 Pat Fahy IRE Clipper Logistics Group Ltd Davy Russell 25/1
7 Saint Calvados (FR) p 6 11 10 Harry Whittington Kate & Andrew Brooks Gavin Sheehan 25/1
8 Ordinary World (IRE) 9 11 10 Henry de Bromhead IRE Chris Jones Rachael Blackmore 33/1
PU God's Own (IRE) 11 11 10 Tom George Crossed Fingers Partnership Paddy Brennan 16/1
Distances: 1¾, 1¾, 6, 1¾, 8, 5, 10
Time: 3m 58.54s
Breeder: Paddy Behan
Breeding: 9 b g High Chaparral (IRE) - Monte Solaro (IRE) (Key Of Luck (USA))
Tote Win: £1.40 Places: £1.10; £2.20; £3.30 Exacta: £6.30
Nicky Henderson - 63rd winner at The Festival
Now joint leading trainer of all-time at The Festival alongside Willie Mullins
Nico de Boinville - 9th winner at The Festival