Nicky Henderson finally unleashes perhaps the most exciting horse in British jumps racing today when Sprinter Sacre takes to Sandown in the Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase.
But the latest renewal of the Grade One event promises to be yet another chapter in the battle between title rivals Henderson and Paul Nicholls, who sends Sanctuaire into play.
The pair were born in France six years ago, just three weeks apart, and are unbeaten in the eight races over fences in which they have run to date. Five of those belong to Sprinter Sacre, the probable odds-on favourite who romped home in the Arkle Trophy and later at Aintree. He has drawn favourable comparisons with Remittance Man, Henderson’s brilliant chaser of the early 1990s, and the trainer decided not to risk him on soft ground at the Cheltenham Open meeting.
“I wanted to run him at Cheltenham, as the race slotted in well, but in that ground I was worried about running him with only three weeks before the Tingle Creek,” said Henderson. “We don’t know if he goes in very soft ground, as he hasn’t been in it before, so we’ll have to see.
“I do love the two-mile races at Sandown and I think with Sprinter Sacre and Sanctuaire taking each other on, it should be one of the great races.”
Regular partner Barry Geraghty has in the past described Sprinter Sacre as an “aeroplane”. The jockey said: “You have to respect Sanctuaire after the performance he put up at Sandown Park in April and I think that he poses Sprinter Sacre’s biggest test yet.”
Nicholls has already won the Tingle Creek eight times, with the victory of Sizing Europe 12 months ago interrupting an unbeaten sequence of six. Nicholls said: “We’re happy with his preparation. He’s in good shape and we’re looking forward to it. We’re happy and Nicky’s happy with his horse.”
At Aintree, 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs returns to the scene of his finest hour as he kicks off his season in the Betfred Becher Chase, but Alan King’s West End Rocker was an impressive winner of the race last term and looks like he could successfully defend his crown off a 5lb higher mark.
Meanwhile, rising star Bold Sir Brian earned an entry in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup after an impressive success for the Lucinda Russell/Peter Buchanan combination at Sandown yesterday.
Despite being a shade awkward at a couple of the Railway fences, he looks a nice prospect for his Scottish connections judging by the way he slammed Pacha Du Polder by 16 lengths in the Sportingbet Future Stars Chase.
Milnathort-based Russell said: “I’d say he will be well worth an entry in the Gold Cup after that performance. I was really pleased at the way he sprinted away from the last.”