O'Brien's star soaring with glory for 'Outlaw'
Young trainer a chip off old block as reputation is enhanced, while Altior cements legacy with back-to-back Champion Chase victories
He had a Festival winner in all but name three years ago, but Joseph O'Brien officially ticked another box in his extraordinary career with Band Of Outlaw's victory in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle yesterday.
O'Brien was still waiting for his training licence to be rubber-stamped when Ivanovich Gorbatov landed the 2016 Triumph Hurdle for his father Aidan, but the 25-year-old finally got his own name on the board.
Band Of Outlaws (7/2 favourite) took it up after the last under JJ Slevin, O'Brien's cousin, and the Kilkenny trainer was "over the moon" as he added another notable feat to a CV overflowing with achievements.
A Classic-winning jockey before height and weight became too much of an issue to overcome, O'Brien has proved himself to be a chip off the old block with the Melbourne Cup and Irish Derby already on his résumé.
"We were fairly confident and thought he could be better than a handicapper," O'Brien said of Band Of Outlaws.
"We thought we had a few chances on Tuesday, they all ran well, but it is nice to get a winner."
For Slevin, it was another landmark day in a riding career which the Wexford pilot - who won last year's Irish Grand National aboard General Principle - scarcely thought possible.
"Joseph has given me loads of rides and helped me out so much. To do that for him means the world. He's a world-class trainer and nothing bothers him. It's unbelievable what he does," the 26-year-old said.
"He fills you with loads of confidence and he says, 'what happen happens'. If it goes wrong there's no bollickings and there's always a next day.
"I never expected to be riding in these races. I was a point-to-point man and going nowhere for a long time. I never expected to get the chances. These wins are very special."
Speaking of special, Altior (4/11 favourite) returned to two spontaneous rounds of 'three cheers' after cementing his legacy as one of the all-time great two-mile chasers with his second Champion Chase success.
It wasn't without drama as he nearly came a cropper at the seventh fence before looking in trouble when challenged on either side by Alan King's Sceau Royal (16/1) and Paul Nicholls' Politologue (11/1).
His fourth successive Festival success was secured with the customary grit heading up the 'Hill' as Nico de Boinville's mount came good once again to equal the jumps record of the great Big Buck's with an 18th successive victory over obstacles.
Nicky Henderson equalled Tom Dreaper's record six winners in the race and also drew level with Willie Mullins on 63 Festival winners after also landing the Coral Cup with William Henry (28/1), which denied Wicklow Brave (25/1) and Patrick Mullins in a thrilling finale.
The Seven Barrows handler was quick to make comparisons between Altior and stablemate Sprinter Scare, widely regarded as one of the best chasers in recent memory and also a dual Champion Chase winner.
"How lucky are we, to retire one and then find another," Henderson said.
"You can't believe it's possible really and it makes it all worthwhile. He's some star. They've both done their bits for us, and I think for racing too."
"It's lovely when people take to horses like that and they genuinely become public horses. We are lucky to have these horses but they come with health warnings.
He added of the winning jockey: "Nico started with us as an amateur and he was known as Sprinter's work rider. That's where he made his name, but now he's made it right and properly at the top, as he did look in trouble there today."
Earlier on the card, City Island (8/1) delivered an unforgettable Festival first for Martin Brassil in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle to bring the former Grand National-winning trainer (Numbersixvalverde in 2006) back to the big time.
It was also a maiden Festival win for Ballymore founder and chief executive Sean Mulryan and Brassil couldn't hide his satisfaction after Mark Walsh steered the exciting six-year-old to victory.
"It's been a long time coming, but you need good horses. It's great to have a Festival winner on the CV. It's wonderful. I liked him from the first time we did a swinging canter with him," the Curragh handler said.
"It was a very good performance. I was hoping that he might do something like that, but you never know because a lot of dreams are shattered here and luckily ours weren't."
Gordon Elliott - who had earlier watched Delta Work (15/8 favourite) finish a close third behind Nicholls' game winner Topofthegame (4/1) and Henderson's Santini (3/1) in the RSA Chase - got off the mark for the week with a famous victory for Tiger Roll (5/4 favourite) in the Cross Country.
Things would get even better when Envoi Allen (2/1 favourite) justified a swell of support from punters to land the Champion Bumper as Elliott joined the legendary trainer Vincent O'Brien on 23 Festival winners.
It was an emotional victory for amateur jockey Jamie Codd - another Wexford rider - as he paid tribute to his late brother Willie after his second winner of the Festival, and his ninth in total.
"He's up there looking down and I hope he's very proud. William was a big supporter of mine when I started, God, I wish he was here," Codd said.