Cheltenham: Henderson’s joy as Sacre sprints away

Barry Geraghty shows his delight as Sprinter Sacre passes the Cheltenham winning post.  Picture: Getty
Barry Geraghty shows his delight as Sprinter Sacre passes the Cheltenham winning post. Picture: Getty
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SPRINTER Sacre offered the conclusive proof for his position as racing’s new superstar in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Trainer Nicky Henderson has often admitted that only the spectacular will do, such have been the extraordinary heights the gelding had soared to in his seven previous starts over fences, and the trainer is left so nervous he is barely able to watch.

Barry Geraghty, who rode one of the recent two-miling greats Moscow Flyer, had to be measured in order not to denigrate the former champion but he, too, struggled to do his mount justice after he dismantled last year’s runner-up and 2011 winner, Sizing Europe.

Sprinter Sacre has assumed the position of poster boy for the sport, vacated by Frankel on the Flat and Kauto Star 
in National Hunt. While his effortless victories, this time by 19 lengths, will wow racing fans, it is uncertain quite how he can improve on his feats so far as he is unlikely to be stretched any further in distance and only his stablemate, Tuesday’s Arkle hero Simonsig, would surely represent any imminent challenge.

The British Horseracing Authority’s handicapper John de Moraville put the performance at 188, 2lb higher than Master Minded five years early and just 2lb short of Kauto Star, the highest-rated horse in the history of the jump classifications.

“That was probably the worst five minutes of my life,” said Henderson after his 49th Festival winner, which took him ahead of his rival, Paul Nicholls, in the trainers’ championship.

“It was hell. As long as Barry enjoyed it, that’s great, but it’s over. He was what we hoped we would see. It does leave you speechless. What he looks like and what he does at home is one thing, but what he does out there is totally unique.”

He went on: “It’s pure ability. He’s nearly that sort of perfect racehorse. It’s not always the good-looking ones that are the good ones, but in this case it is. He has that wow factor.”

Sprinter Sacre, a chance purchase by Raymond and Caroline Mould from a “job lot” of 21 offered by bloodstock agent David Minton, was a 1-4 favourite and is already odds-on for next year’s renewal.

Referring to any potential match up with Simonsig, Henderson said: “It may well happen as they are both genuine two-milers.

Geraghty sat in third during the early part of the race as Mail De Bievre made a fruitless bid from the front, but the only two that mattered were left to their own devices at the top of the hill. Sizing Europe took a wrong step when stumbling at the path before the second-last fence but Geraghty’s red colours were already disappearing into the distance.

Geraghty said: “He’s a beautiful horse to ride. I’ve never ridden one as natural to jump. Things would have to go very wrong to go wrong. I’ve ridden some brilliant horses over the years, but the ease and the grace that he does it with sets him apart. It’s hard to compare like with like. Moscow Flyer was a super horse, but this horse is unbelievable. It’s hard to take in.”

Sizing Europe, who himself finished six lengths ahead of Wishfull Thinking and Sanctuaire, had been given options over longer distances at the meeting but trainer Henry de Bromhead had hardly made a foolish final decision.

“He’s still finished second in a Champion Chase and, even at 11, he is still a very good horse, but we have been beaten by a special one. We made the decision to run in this [rather than the Ryanair Chase or the Cheltenham Gold Cup] and there is nothing we can do about that now. He seems as good as ever, but the winner put us in our place.”