What makes a truly great racehorse? We can, of course, take accolades into consideration, pointing us towards the likes of Justify or American Pharoah as Triple Crown Winners. Perhaps it is a sense of imperiousness, as was demonstrated by Frankel and Secretariat? Or, maybe it is a great rivalry, like the one between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in the late 1980s, that helps to cement a legacy.
Most Americans racing fans will never even have heard of Altior, a horse who is on a 17-race winning streak and who has the potential to eclipse the likes of Black Caviar before his career ends. Altior is a chaser, undoubtedly the most prolific star of national hunt racing. With around two years left in his prime, he may be able to hunt down Hurricane Fly’s world-record of 22 Grade 1 victories in jumps racing.
Of the qualities listed above, it’s clear that Altior possesses both the accolades and the sense of imperiousness that characterize a great horse. He has won three separate Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival – the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Arkle Chase and the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Moreover, he won those races with a look of insouciance, almost as if he was running another race to his competitors.
Few horses have challenged Altior
That takes us to the final quality – rivalry. There hasn’t really been anyone to challenge Altior in the last few years, and that perhaps will tarnish his legacy when the book closes on his career. However, is it fair to judge Altior as lacking if others haven’t been up to scratch? One could argue that it isn’t, and, to be fair, there are many very, very good horses that Altior has put to the sword over the last couple of years.
Indeed, Altior will have some tough competition when he aims for his second Champion Chase win at Cheltenham next month. He is currently priced at 4/9 in the Cheltenham betting markets with 888sport. Few can argue with giving him the odds-on tag, as there is a sense that many trainers will use their options elsewhere rather than fight a losing battle against Altior.
However, the closest thing Altior has to a rival is the excellent Min, a delightfully-talented 8-year-old trained by Willie Mullins. Min has faced Altior twice at Cheltenham, in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and last year’s Champion Chase, finishing runner up both times. 6/1 is quoted for Min this year’s Champion Chase, around twice the SP of last year when he got close to Altior.
Footpad’s expected challenge hasn’t materialized
The other intriguing name in the race is Footpad, a younger horse who was predicted to challenge Altior over the coming years. It has been a patchy season for the horse, who is also trained by Willie Mullins, but the talent is certainly there. In fact, only Altior has a higher rating from Timeform in its rankings of chasers. The issue is simply if Footpad is ready to take the step up. 6/1 will definitely tempt some value hunting punters.
In the end, regardless if Min or Footpad give him a good battle, Altior looks like he will go down as one of the best we have seen in the 21st century. His consistency is remarkable, as is the ease with which he has dispatched with any competitors. If he wins at Cheltenham on March 13th, he will join the likes of Arkle as a four-time Festival winner. Few horses have achieved the feat by making it look so easy.