Following news of Altior's retirement, read an excerpt from his essay in Timeform's Chasers & Hurdlers of 2019/20 annual
Altior’s crown - and the aura of invincibility that had surrounded him - slipped in the latest season when Cyrname beat him in a much anticipated clash at Ascot in November. Admittedly, the course and distance showed Cyrname to really good effect and there was a suspicion that he might just have been the fitter of the pair on the day (both horses were having their first outing of the season).
That said, Altior’s defeat was a timely reminder that extending unbeaten sequences and maintaining a reputation for invincibility can never be taken for granted in top-level sport. Sooner or later, unbeaten runs come to an end (unless you’re a Frankel or a Black Caviar) but the qualities of durability and consistency in a racehorse - or sports team - should never be under-appreciated.
Take the virtually unparalleled achievement of Arsenal’s `Invincibles’, who went through the 2003/4 football season unbeaten in the Premier League. Their reputation has seemed at times in danger of being diminished -`Too many draws’ [Arsenal drew twelve of their thirty-eight games] - and there were those who sought to further undermine the achievement as Liverpool strode majestically towards the latest title, dropping only two points in a single draw in their first twenty-seven matches.
It took a Liverpool defeat at the end of February, at the hands of a Watford team struggling near the foot of the table, to remind everyone just what an achievement it was by the `Invincibles’ (the champions-elect had also threatened Arsenal’s record of forty-nine league games unbeaten, Liverpool’s own unbeaten run ending at Vicarage Road after forty-four games).
In years to come, when another horse is approaching Altior’s unbeaten record of 19 wins, the longest winning sequence in history by a jumper, it is to be hoped that Altior’s achievement will not be disparaged.
If it was easy staying unbeaten, reputations for invincibility would be much more commonplace in sporting history. Altior’s unbeaten sequence was recorded over four campaigns (the first five of his 19 wins were over hurdles), and his complete dominance of his peers (in his case the two-mile chasers) has few parallels in racing in more recent times (the previous jumps record holder Big Buck’s kept a vice-like grip on the staying hurdling division for four seasons). Altior is approaching the veteran stage, but, however he fares from now on, his contribution to jumping’s enduring popularity has already been immense and his record-breaking run reflects great credit on him and those who have guided his career.
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Rather like the `too many draws’ of Arsenal’s `Invincibles’, Altior has had an Achilles heel that has arguably prevented his reputation from reaching the heights it deserves - the tendency to do just as much as he has to in his races, and occasionally to give the impression he might be in some trouble.
The style of his wins may not always have been so spectacular as some might have liked, as, for example, when equalling the long sequence of Big Buck’s with his second Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2019, his fourth win in all at the Cheltenham Festival.
Altior’s jumping towards the end of that race wasn’t so fluent as usual and Politologue and Sceau Royal both looked dangers to him at the last before he stayed on up the hill - producing the strong finish that has been the hallmark of so many of his performances - to win by a length and three quarters from Politologue, a winning margin that was the narrowest in any of his races over fences.
Altior’s 19th win was achieved at 6/1-on in the Celebration Chase at Sandown’s Finale meeting where it had been thought at one time that he might meet Cyrname (eventually ruled out by the prospect of drying ground).