Sport Cheltenham

Saturday 20 April 2019

Patrick Mullins: 'Hard to see anything going the distance with Henderson's two-mile king, but Blue Sari is dressed to impress in Bumper'

 

Sharjah and Patrick Mullins (R) keep a close eye on Buveur D’Air as they race past the stand during the Champion Hurdle yesterday David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Sharjah and Patrick Mullins (R) keep a close eye on Buveur D’Air as they race past the stand during the Champion Hurdle yesterday David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Patrick Mullins

It is, I imagine, what it was like seeing Eastwood on set in his prime. Altior has understated presence. An aura. Your eye is drawn to him. Head carried low, he saunters around parade rings unhurried. Unbeaten over obstacles, for longer than any other thoroughbred in our racing history.

He's an entertainer too though and he's mastered the art of suspense. Often in his races he has a look of indifference about him that gives hope to his rivals. But near the post, when it matters most, he seems to come alive to the noise of the crowd.

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He hasn't the imperious swagger of that jet black aeroplane Sprinter Sacre, nor the endearing tenacity of the terrier Viking Flagship. He is just better, always, but only because he is asked to. And in Nico de Boinville, he has a safe pair of hands in the saddle.

As cool a man as there is around, he has repeatedly delivered on the big stage with Coneygree, Sprinter Sacre and now Altior. Like his partner, De Boinville gets the job done.

And so we beat on, boats against the current of his supremacy. Twice, Min has valiantly gone to the last with him, nostril to nostril beneath Cheltenham's screaming grandstands, and twice his view of the winning post has been obscured by Altior's tail and De Boinville's derriére.

Un De Sceaux outjumped them at Sandown, bringing a lightning bolt of hope to us, until succumbing in the final furlong like all those before and after him.

Footpad looked a contender of note last season but life has got in his way this year, as it often does, and the anticipated match-up has failed to materialise.

Altior has arrived on the summit of greatness stealthily, without trumpets and bells ringing out. He is a victim of his own talent.

There is nothing to challenge him. There is no Ronaldo to his Messi. No Fury and Wilder to his Joshua. Like Ali before his "ain't no Vietcong ever called me n****r" moment, he is the undisputed champion of his world. All he has to do is keep breathing.

The diminutive Blue Sari is our sole representative in the Champion Bumper. At home he floats around as unnoticeable as a butterfly, doing only the bare minimum, but his performance in Gowran was as striking as a bee sting to those who saw it. He has two main advantages, as I see it, for today.

He came from France and so would have been broken and in training at two, when most of his opponents would have been doing the equivalent of playing FIFA sitting on the couch, as jumps horses in England and Ireland aren't ridden until they are three years old.

His second advantage is his laid-back temperament. This race is a bubbling cauldron of noise, colour and smells for a young horse. I've ridden several well-fancied horses - think Day of a Lifetime and Sicilian Secret - which had lost their head before the flag went down and the tapes went up. I don't see this being an issue for our horse.

In fact, it could well help him, as I believe it did with the likes of Briar Hill and Relegate, two of our previous winners who had similar laissez-faire attitudes to work at home. I think he will go very close.

* * * * *

In the Champion yesterday, I had the exact position I wanted on Sharjah (something that doesn't always happen here) tracking Buveur D'Air, when he fell and brought us down.

I thought Apple's Jade could go right and Laurina might jump too big so banked on Buveur D'Air being the safest of the principals to track.

And the dual Champion falls for the first time in his career. If he had rolled right,

I think we'd have been second at worst as we were beside the winner at the time. Instead he rolled left and took out our hind legs. Such is the luck you need.

After the ups of Klassical Dream and Duc De Genievres for the stable, the downs had to come.

Benie Des Dieux had the mares' hurdle within her grasp when she came down at the final flight. She appeared to meet it on a good stride, jump it well and then just stumble on landing.

Both her and Ruby thankfully got up. When you play for triumph, disaster is always on the table. Such is life.

She'll have other days.

Rachael Blackmore rode her first Cheltenham winner yesterday. She was in position 'A' all the way, a simple but perfect ride. It won't be her last.

And she'll be buying all her housemates dinner at the weekend!

Patrick's Picks

Battleoverdoyen, 1.30

Uradel, 2.50

Blue Sari, 5.30

Watch: A first Cheltenham winner for Rachael Blackmore as A Plus Tard shows his class

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