Bring on Footpad
Altior was not at his brilliant best on Saturday but the Nicky Henderson-trained chaser was more than good enough to retain his unbeaten tag over obstacles, which now stretches to 14 races including last month’s Champion Chase.
There were a few moments of concern as 33-1 shot San Benedeto loomed alongside between the last two fences, but it did not require Nico de Boinville to get too serious for Altior to move up a gear and pull away for a comfortable three and three-quarters of a length victory.
The final day of the season is an opportunity to reflect on the season past, but inevitably attention turned swiftly to the future and the mouthwatering prospect of a clash between Altior and that magnificent Mullins chaser Footpad, which already looks like the sort of heavyweight clash to savour the thought of through the summer months.
Altior, owned by Patricia Pugh, is the 7-4 favourite for the 2019 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, largely unchanged in price following this workmanlike victory, with Footpad available at 4-1.
De Boinville was certainly not shying away from the prospect of tackling Mullins’ rising star, finishing his post-race analysis with a bullish summary: “That was a great way to end the season and let’s go again next year. Bring on Footpad!”
Despite emerging from this season with a perfect three-from-three record it has been far from plain sailing, with an autumn wind operation delaying Altior’s start to the campaign to February and a hard race at Cheltenham taking enough out of the horse that connections swerved Aintree.
“He was just lacking that bit of electricity today and it was pretty workmanlike,” added De Boinville. “I think Cheltenham left its mark and it is soft ground here – the rain has got in a bit.
“I think he found it hard enough work, but it’s the mark of great champions that they can pull it out when they’re up against the ropes, all credit to him.”
Henderson said it had been a “difficult” season with Altior, but was delighted to see his star emerge from the season with his record unscathed.
“He’s retained his unbeaten record over obstacles,” he said. “Very few horses are going to go three years unbeaten.
“We probably haven’t seen the best Altior today – he might not be at his best but he’s still the best.
“He’ll go and have a good old summer now. It’s been a rush to get him everywhere this season, so fair play to everyone. It has been difficult.”