Sprinter Sacre is one of the best horses I’ve seen over steeplechase fences.
His form in 2013 was irresistible. Having won his two pre Cheltenham races incredibly easily that season, a 15 length win in the Tingle Creek, followed by a 14 length win in the Victor Chandler (run at Cheltenham that year), he lined up for the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase as the 1-4 favourite. And he won as a 1-4 shot should, strolling clear to beat previous champion Sizing Europe by 19 lengths. He followed up with easy wins at Aintree and Punchestown. Timeform gave him a rating of 192, making him the 3rd highest rated chaser in history, behind only Arkle and Flyingbolt. He had the chasing world at his feet.
Or so it seemed. The following year things went wrong. To great shock he was pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase on the day after Boxing Day. He then suffered from a series of health and injury problems and it looked like he might not run again.
Return he did, albeit in a fairly undistinguished manner. He ran second to Dodging Bullets at Ascot in January 2015, was pulled up in that year’s Champion Chase and finished the season as runner up to Special Tiara at Sandown. His best days seemed behind him and given the heights he had reached, you wondered why he was kept in training.
But Nicky Henderson knew best. I was at Cheltenham in November 2015 when he beat Somersby to win the Schloer Chase. The cheers that day were probably the loudest I’d heard at Cheltenham outside the Festival.
But surely the Queen Mother was a step too far? He lined up in the 2016 Champion Chase as the 5-1 second favourite behind odds on and seemingly unbeatable Willie Mullins monster Un De Sceaux.
Sprinter Sacre’s jump at the last ditch was spectacular but he was still 3 or 4 lengths behind Un De Sceaux who seemed to be going easily as he went past leader Special Tiara. Visually Ruby Walsh didn’t seem to be doing too much, but it became increasingly clear that Un De Sceaux didn’t have too much left. Nico De Boinville kicked Sprinter Sacre to challenge and then into the lead. As the noise from the crowd reached maybe record decibel levels, Sprinter Sacre bounded clear up the hill to win by 3 1/2 lengths. He was back. Simon Holt exulted that this was “the impossible dream coming true”. It was certainly one of the most emotional moments I have seen at Cheltenham.
Will there be another one this week?