“That is some horse.”
I stood on a bench on the lawn, sharing the bench with two Scottish men eating steaming hot sandwiches, and sharing the lawn with the rest of the world. Two men in tweed and a woman in tweed stood behind the bench, the wind whipped across and down the slope, the Queen Mother field went on their way, Altior pouncing to a forward spot just off Saint Calvados.
We shuddered and clutched the back of the bench when Altior slithered over the water jump on the backside, then held our breath as he went to the next, exhaling as he picked up like it never happened. Turning for home, somebody yelled for For God’s Own, others yelled for other horses, most of us stood silent hoping/waiting/expecting greatness.
At the last fence, as Sceau Royal and Politologue swarmed him from either side, the man next to me declared, “He’s in trouble. He’s in trouble. He’s in trouble.” Troubled, perhaps, but far from in trouble.
Altior put his head down, stretched, scoured his champion depths and powered up the hill, a newspaper flew up in the air. Altior had won again, continuing his unbeaten mark over obstacles (hurdles and fences) while winning at Cheltenham for the fourth time in four tries. I high-fived the Scotsmen and pumped my first to the trio of tweed, sharing a moment of greatness. A horse’s greatness. His greatness.
“That is some horse,” I said, to my new friends, to myself, to whomever.
“Some horse,” I heard from someone, all of them.
We knew he had talent. Now we know he has tenacity.
“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,” trainer Nicky Henderson said. “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.”
Some horse. Some star.
“We 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,” jockey Nico De Boinville said. “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.”
Celebrate we did, as a spontaneous cheer cascaded from the winner’s enclosure.
“Hip Hip…..Hooray. Hip Hip…...Hooray. Hip Hip…...Hooray.”
Beyond, Altior, Tiger Roll won his fourth race at the Festival, dominating the cross country race in his typical, head-low, little-engine style. And who wasn’t rooting for veteran Wicklow Brave as he got in front and looked home free before being nailed in the final stride of the Coral Cup. Legends. All.
As for punting, we picked three winners, all short prices.
As for today. It’s halftime.
Race 1. The JLT Novices’ Chase. Grade 1. $200,500. 2 1/5 miles.
Defi Du Seuil won the Triumph Hurdle in 2017, switched to fences, he’s won two of his last three and comes in as the horse to beat in the opener. Bruton Street IV is represented by Pravalaguna, winner of her last two for Willie Mullins.
The Picks: Defi Du Seuil, Vinndication, Voix Du Reve.
Race 2. The Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. $128,000. 3 miles.
Twenty-four runners. Handicap. Cheltenham. Minefield.
The Picks: Cuneo, First Assignment, Sambura Shujaa.
Race 3. The Ryanair Chase. Grade 1. $448,000. 2 5/8 miles.
Remember Footpad in last year’s Arkle? Stellar. Can he come back and do it again? Frodon has won three of his last four. Our old friend Sean Flanagan has a chance with Road To Respect. We’ve always loved Charbel but wonder about the scope of his game. And, oh the one and only Un De Sceaux, he finished 4 lengths behind Altior at Sandown in December. Ruby’s Choice? The all-time leading jockey at Cheltenham chooses Footpad over old friend Un De Sceaux.
Race 4. The Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle. Grade 1. $416,000. 3 miles.
Paisley Park, new to this realm, rides a four-race win streak into today’s feature. Veteran Faugheen will try to turn back time. Supasundae has done it before.
The Picks: Supasundae, Faugheen, Paisley Park.
Race 5. The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase. Grade 3. $141,000. 2 5/8 miles.
Lizzie Kelly and Siruh Du Lac have won three in a row. Janika makes his third start in Britain for Nicky Henderson. We’ve always liked Azzerti.
The Picks: Janika, Azzerti, Siruh Du Lac.
Race 6. 12:50. Tattersalls Mares’ Novice Hurdle. Grade 2. $115,000. 2 1/8 miles.
Posh Trish rolls into this fresh off three wins in a row. Epatante can top that, she’s won four in a row. My Sister Sarah mows them all down late.
The Picks: My Sister Sarah, Epatante, Elfile.
Race 7. The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. Amateur riders. $89,500. 3 1/4 miles.
The hunch play is Its All Guesswork because that’s all I’m doing here.
The Picks: Captain Chaos, Touch Kick, Just A Sting.