Altior survived a heavy downpour and a determined Un De Sceaux to extended his winning streak to 15 in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
Nicky Henderson’s star was unproven on such testing ground and faced arguably his toughest test to date up against Un De Sceaux, Sceau Royal and Saint Calvados.
As expected Saint Calvados and Un De Sceuax made sure there was no hanging about – but Nico de Boinville was intent to not let them get too far ahead.
With the exception of jumping too big at the open ditch early on, Altior’s fencing was at its slickest, although Un De Sceaux made him pull out all the stops.
Turning in it seemed a matter of ‘how far’ for Altior as he loomed alongside the diminutive Un De Sceaux, but Willie Mullins’ multiple Grade One winner did not go down without a fight.
When Altior got in slightly tight to the last it gave Ruby Walsh chance to steal a length, but as he has done in the past, the 8-13 favourite powered up the hill to win going away.
Henderson said: “That was special, I think that was really testing him today and, like Buveur D’Air last week, if he was going to get beat it would have been today.
“When you have genuine championship horses it is great people appreciate them, but it does make you feel the pressure.
“They were four very good horses in horrible ground today and they’ve all run their best.”
He went on: “It’s a sense of relief. Very much so. We have always Ummed and ahhed about soft ground. I remember the last two years in the Game Spirit at Newbury, we were umming and ahhing until the tee-off time, because it was soft ground. But today it was proper hard work going round.
“We knew Ruby Walsh would set a gallop and he made it as tough as he could. But this is an amazing horse and you couldn’t make it too tough for him.
“That is not his ground, but he is that good. He was fit, and he had to be, because they were going to test us, weren’t they?
“I think that’s as good a performance as he has ever produced, because it is first time out, a proper gallop and a proper race. There was a proper gallop in that ground.
“Nico said it was just heavy ground. He has never been in that before and I don’t think he likes it, as I said before.
“He does stay, because he does keep galloping and he has won nicely in the end. He galloped away, didn’t he?
“He said he didn’t have to work for it.”
De Boinville said: “That rain just beforehand really did open that ground up. We were getting drenched down at the start, but Ruby has gone out and made it a true championship pace.
“All credit to Un De Sceaux for keeping going. That was some performance from him. That was a great performance, the gallop he went. He has been around a long time. It just seemed to set up the race nicely for us and we always had that kick at the end.
“And when you reach a hill in that ground as well, he just seemed to go into overdrive there.
“The first ditch mistake made him wake up a bit. He was fresh and well going into this, and we haven’t done that much schooling, as we haven’t been able to get on the grass. We got on the grass last week and he probably only jumped about 10 fences coming into this.
“Maybe it woke him up, and when we went down to the downhill fence, he danced over it, so that was good.
“He felt absolutely fantastic today. It was a stronger gallop than I anticipated and on good ground that would have been a good gallop. It was end-to-end.
“I was very happy where I was, tracking in behind Un De Sceaux. I did think he was the one to track and I had it in my mind that would be how it would pan out, and I was proved right.
“Once we jumped the Railway fences, I thought I was all right. I was very happy where I was, and it was just a case of coming alive. He is very settled in behind, but once he gets to something’s girths, away he goes, and he just seems to find more and more, like all good champions do.
“He felt fantastic. He is so quick over those fences. He is a champion, isn’t he?”
Of Un De Sceaux, Walsh said: “He ran his heart out, jumped super. He jumped brilliant, but I’ve never been a good loser and I’m not any better now.”