Lift off for Altior but can his unbeaten run continue at Ascot

Altior ridden by Nico de Boinville won the Queen Mother Champion Chase   for the second time at this year's Cheltenham Festival
Altior ridden by Nico de Boinville won the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second time at this year's Cheltenham Festival

To see Altior in full flight is one of sport’s greatest sights, writes James Toney

Nico de Boinville frequently takes him off in one post code and, invariably, lands him in another.

He clears fences like a show jumper, rarely touching a twig, and is unbeaten in 19 races over obstacles, a run dating back 1673 days, two prime ministers have been and gone since.

He’s quick - his father won the Derby - and foot perfect. His winning run, which includes double Champion Chase success at Cheltenham, has been a masterclass in dominance.

He doesn’t just beat rivals, he mercilessly crushes them into the ground - his average margin of victory an improbable 11 and a half lengths, 28 metres or just over two London buses.

In a week in which Jose Mourinho has hogged the sporting headlines, it seems we forget the true ‘special one’ has four legs. Indeed in an uncertain world, Altior winning has long seemed the only thing we could actually bank on.

However, all that could change at Ascot's Christy 1965 Chase, as Nicky Henderson's nine-year old superstar faces the toughest challenge since his hurdling debut at Chepstow four years ago.

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Altior takes on Paul Nicholls’s star chaser Cyrname who seems to have everything in his favour - his preferred right-handed track and an optimum distance, two miles five furlongs being three furlongs longer than Altior has ever raced - and that was three years ago.

And Henderson - positively misty-eyed at the prospect of the showdown - knows somethings got to give in a tussle that brings back memories of Kauto Star's famous battles with Denham more than a decade ago.

“It seems everybody is looking forward to the race, except Paul and I," said Henderson.

“It’s a big day and there’s quite a lot at stake as far as the future’s concerned. It’s going to tell us what we do next, where we go and help point out our seasons.

"The way he works, with all that speed, you have to question whether he will stay but we will see."

Cyrname clearly loves Ascot, winning here on his last two starts, though he also finished seventh from 13 at this meeting 12 months ago when a hot favourite.

“We're taking on a monster of a horse," said Nicholls.

“It’s good for racing to get two horses like this to be able to take each other on in a race, rather than dodging each other all the time.

“It’s been great fun all week getting him ready, so let the horses do the talking now. Hopefully after the second-last it’ll be some race."

Jumps racing's season is too often exclusively viewed through the prism of Cheltenham, so it's heartening to see the best two chasers around going head-to-head in November. This is exactly what the sport needs in the dark days of winter when spring seems so far away.

The all roads lead to the Cotswolds narrative can become a little tiresome, with the opening leg of jump racing's £1 million triple crown attracting just four entries at Haydock this weekend.

The Betfair Chase - the first in a series that includes the King George VI Chase at Kempton and Cheltenham Gold Cup - would be a highlight of any other weekend.

Three mile chasers are all engaged in a phoney war, last year's Festival hero Al Boum Photo is likely to start his season at Tramore and Kemboy is sidelined in a row over ownership.

Soft ground loving Bristol de Mai will seek to complete a hat-trick of wins in the £200,000 race with the rapidly improving Lostintranslation - impressive under Robbie Power's charge at Carlisle at the start of the month - his most likely rival.

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