Those that travelled in their thousands to Newbury hoping to witness Altior return to winning ways were not left disappointed – and for winning rider Nico de Boinville it was a victory that went much deeper.
While defeat is part and parcel of the game, rarely has any reversal left the Gold Cup-winning rider more deflated than the one encountered by Altior at Ascot in November.
Reverting back to the two-mile trip he has reigned supreme over for the past three seasons, the Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old raced to victory number 21 of his career with a third straight success in the Win Bigger On The Betfair Exchange Chase.
Though the victory in the race better known as the Game Spirit may not have been the most high-profile of Altior’s distinguished career, it was one that in the eyes of his rider was equally as important to the numerous Grade Ones by his name.
He said: “I’m really happy, as the whole yard needed that. It has been a funny old season without our flagship horse flying the flag. It was really great to see him come back and show that devastating turn of foot he has got.
“Of course, when you taste defeat on a horse of his standing it definitely stings a bit. The joys though of being associated with Seven Barrows and the boss is that he has done so well in the past in getting these horses back to their best, so you just have to keep the faith and believe.
“This has given confidence to the horse and to us. It’s a massive thanks to the team at home – they have done a wonderful job of getting him where he should be.”
There was a time that seeing De Boinville asking Altior for his effort before his other rivals had played their hand caused moments of worry for his legion of fans – but it is a sight now that has become synonymous with helping him to produce his trademark finish.
De Boinville said: “He hits that bit of a flat spot, but then he takes off again. You just have to keep him going and keep niggling away and hopefully he finds that extra gear, which he did today.
“We are nearly up to Cheltenham now and that was a good trial. That is his trademark, that devastating finish from the last to the line and he showed what he can do.
“I think we still have plenty to work on, but that was a real confidence booster for him. He showed a sparkle of his old brilliance.”
With the Queen Mother Champion Chase – which Altior will bid to win for a third year in succession – now shaping up to being perhaps the most anticipated race at Cheltenham next month, De Boinville is only to happy to be part of it with his old ally now firing on all cylinders.
He said: “I think the Champion Chase is looking really hot and I am really looking forward to it.
“I’m sure Barry (Geraghty) is aboard Defi Du Seuil and the guys from Willie Mullins (with Chacun Pour Soi), so it will be a great race, I think.
“It is shaping up to be a great race and hopefully we can all look forward to it.”