Cheltenham Festival: Altior reigns supreme for Nicky Henderson
Altior gave Nicky Henderson his first win in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle since Flown in 1992 when proving too good for Willie Mullins' Min in the curtain-raiser at the Cheltenham Festival.
Min was expected to give Mullins his fourth successive win in this race but Altior (4-1) shattered those dreams and also hopes of a short-priced four-timer for Ireland's champion trainer with a breathtaking performance.
Charbel made the running with Min on his heels until the race began in earnest three out, where Nico de Boinville ranged up on Altior on the outside.
The race soon developed into a duel between the top two, but Altior asserted at the final flight and galloped on strongly up the hill to defeat the 15-8 favourite by seven lengths.
Henderson also took third place with Buveur D'Air (10-1), who made up a lot of ground and was just a length and a half away.
De Boinville said: "I was seriously impressed - all season we've been waiting for a proper pace.
"I thought I had a bit of horse left (at the second-last). We know he stays, I think he outstayed them. He'll make a lovely chaser some day."
Henderson hailed De Boinville's efforts in the saddle and was thrilled to kick off the meeting with a winner.
He said: "He always looked to be in the right place - Nico give him a lovely ride. Nico was happy, I was always happy. We really needed to win this one - we had to win otherwise it was going to be uphill all the way. We think he is very good."
Looking to the future for the winner, Henderson went on: "I'm not tempted by Aintree, as it is only three weeks, but he hasn't run since Boxing Day so we will just see.
"I'd always said he was a proper horse and he came here fit, fresh and well. It was some bumper he ran in last year (at Newbury) when Barters Hill won, with Buveur D'Air and Altior in the same race. Hopefully Altior will be back here next year, but whether that is over hurdles or fences, I wouldn't like to say just yet.
"He looked smart enough there, but he will make a lovely chaser. I'd always said this was our strongest race, purely because we didn't know what Min was. Buveur D'Air has run a great race, too, but he might appreciate a bit further and softer ground."
Mullins was magnanimous in defeat, saying: "He (Altior) was a worthy winner and I was very impressed with him when he won at Kempton.
"I don't have any excuses. If Altior wasn't there we'd have been a super winner, but that's as good as he is at the minute. When they jump exuberantly like he does, the chances are he's going to make a mistake."