Altior shows his class to roar back for delighted Henderson
On a dramatic second day at the Cheltenham Festival that saw Irish hero Ruby Walsh suffer a leg break, Nicky Henderson's Altior showed the heart and class of a champion to extend his unbeaten record over jumps to 13 in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
In winning at the meeting for the third year in a row, he joined a select band of multiple scorers - but his success did not look likely for most of the two-mile journey.
He appeared to be hating the tacky, holding ground, and of the five in with a chance jumping the third-last, he was travelling the worst before being faced with his favourite hill.
It was then he clicked into overdrive and Henderson and Nico de Boinville could breathe a huge sigh of relief as he powered seven lengths clear of the Willie Mullins-trained Min.
Having suffered a scare on Monday when found to be lame, it was a feeling mostly of relief for Henderson.
"Altior has just got gears. Nico was very good on him and when he pulled him out he was just electric. It's amazing when you see a horse appreciated like that," said Henderson after his even-money winner returned to rapturous applause.
"He stays this trip very well. It looks like he'd love another half a mile. Would he get three (miles)? I don't know. As soon as he saw that daylight he was up and gone very quickly - and he was going to win. The anxiety had gone and he wasn't going to get caught."
The returning Douvan looked to be travelling extremely well, only to fall on the back straight.
Ruby Walsh missed the ride on Douvan, having already been stood down from an earlier fall in the RSA Insurance Chase won in fantastic style by 5-2 favourite Presenting Percy.
Another who was triumphant at last year's meeting, he sparked Gold Cup dreams for trainer Pat Kelly, jockey Davy Russell and owner Philip Reynolds.
Russell said: "I've underestimated this horse. People have latched onto him. He's unimpressive to me, but he's some horse."
Walsh's injury ruled him out of the remainder of the meeting and also cost Paul Townend a winner as he jumped off Bleu Berry (20-1) in the Coral Cup to ride joint-favourite Max Dynamite, who was unplaced.
It was a fourth success in two days for Mullins and a first winner at the meeting for Mark Walsh, the lucky replacement.
"This was the plan, to get him into a big handicap," said Mullins. "Paul switched off him and Mark was available and I snapped him up."
Gordon Elliott saddled a treble, headlined by Samcro in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
The 8-11 favourite was burdened with the tag of the Irish 'banker' and Jack Kennedy kept him out of trouble and he was efficient in beating Black Op.
"He looks a very exciting horse. Michael (O'Leary, owner) loves his big chasers, but I wouldn't be afraid to bring him back in trip," said Elliott.
Tiger Roll (7-1) won the Cross Country Chase, a third successive win at the meeting in three different races, while Veneer Of Charm (33-1) completed the three-timer in the Fred Winter.
But the last word went to Mullins, who cemented his position as king of the Weatherbys Bumper, recording a one-two-three as 25-1 chance Relegate and Katie Walsh led home Carefully Selected and Tornado Flyer.