Nicky Henderson’s stable star lit up the National Hunt world with a series of scintillating performance over fences between 2011 and 2013, with his Queen Mother Champion Chase victory almost two years ago particularly spellbinding. His unbeaten run came to an abrupt end later that year, however, with Geraghty pulling up the giant gelding in Kempton’s Desert Orchid Chase, after which it transpired he was suffering from a heart condition.
With numerous tests, hours of work on the gallops and a crucial racecourse gallop and school at Newbury over the festive period now under his belt, Sprinter Sacre is ready for his return and Geraghty is unsurprisingly anxious and excited in equal measure.
“It’s only natural that there will be some apprehension given the heart problems Sprinter encountered just over a year ago,” the jockey said in his At The Races blog. “But his comeback has been well planned by Nicky Henderson, and the team looking after him at Seven Barrows and I’m in a very positive frame of mind.
“We’ll let Sprinter do the talking with his performance but he wouldn’t be going for this race if the signs weren’t right. The ground looks like being no worse than soft, which should be fine and, although he’s never run over fences at Ascot, that shouldn’t be any concern – he’s won a bumper and hurdle there. As for his fitness on the ground, well, he’s been on the go for most of the time since his problem and, while I’m certain the race will sharpen him up, I’m sure he’s in a position to do himself justice.
“I couldn’t fault him when he schooled and then worked at Newbury recently when it seemed like the Sprinter Sacre of old was back with us. I’m extremely hopeful that will be the case at Ascot and he can retake his place at steeplechasing’s top table.”
Henderson admitted to feeling “a bit jumpy”. He told BetRacingNation TV: “He had that gallop at Newbury a couple of weeks ago, that went well and last week was good. We can only do what we’ve got to do and try and plot it correctly. He is the sort of horse that gets you a bit jumpy, but I’d rather have the problem than not have the problem.”
If Sprinter Sacre should come up short, the horse most likely to take advantage is the Paul Nicholls-trained Dodging Bullets.
At Haydock – if the meeting survives a morning inspection – The New One will face six rivals in the StanJames.com Champion Hurdle Trial, including Desert Cry, part-owned by former Everton and Manchester United manager David Moyes. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable star is the main British challenger for the Champion Hurdle in March and will be longs odds-on to supplement his claims, despite giving weight to all of his rivals.
Sam Twiston-Davies misses the ride on Dodging Bullets in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot so as to partner his favourite horse. The jockey told Yorkshire Radio: “He’s a very short price so hopefully he’ll go very well.”
Dan Skelton is convinced the prospect of demanding conditions at Haydock will not be an issue for Toby Lerone in the Peter Marsh Chase, while Bingley trainer Sue Smith is double-handed with Vintage Star and No Planning as she seeks a third win in this race after The Last Fling in 2004 and Artic Jack four years later.
At a chilly Musselburgh yesterday, Full Jack was given fine ride by James Reveley as the combination landed the William Hill-In The App Store Handicap Hurdle. The Pauline Robson-trained top-weight was bagging his first race over hurdles as he beat Snapping Turtle by six-lengths.
Danny Cook returned to action after a spell sidelined through injury to ride a winner on Streets Of New York, while trainer Nick Alexander ended a lean spell that stretched back 69 days and 46 runners when Always Tipsy and Stephen Mulqueen took the William Hill-Download The App Handicap Hurdle.