OUR racing correspondent Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) pays tribute to the now-retired Sprinter Sacre.
Sprinter Sacre: The Best Jumps Horse I Ever Saw
In the time I’ve followed the National Hunt scene we’ve been treated to a vintage crop of 2 mile chasers. Starting with Flagship Uberallas and Edredon Bleu when I first started watching racing through to Moscow Flyer, Well Chief and Azertyioup dominating the division then the Paul Nichols trained Kauto Star (before his staying exploits) and Master Minded, it’s been the most competitive jumps champion division in my opinion.
However none of these superstars come close to the megastar that was Sprinter Sacre. I would go as far as to say that he was not only the best 2 mile chaser of my lifetime, but the best horse to jump an obstacle of any description over any distance in my lifetime.
At his peak he was incredible and his performances were almost regularly jaw dropping and I hope we one day see another horse blessed with his talents.
An unnatural hurdler
On the 20th February 2010 at 4.55 we saw Sprinter Sacre make his debut for Nicky Henderson at Ascot in a bumper. His home reputation had seen him backed in to odds on favourite for his debut and though he won he didn’t set the world alight and it’s unlikely racegoers that day knew what they had witnessed.
After winning in great style on his second start at Ayr, Nicky Henderson sent him over hurdles, but it wasn’t to be a smooth transition where he lost his unbeaten record to Frascati Park, who was breaking his duck at the seventh attempt over hurdles.
He hadn’t learned to settle yet and his enthusiasm was preventing him from showing what he was capable of. His future clearly lied over fences but he was still a talented novice hurdler. He managed to come third in the Supreme Novice Hurdle which was his last start before he was sent chasing.
A stunning Arkle win
As a novice chaser Sprinter Sacre quickly became a household name within the sport with his faultless displays. He was an incredibly accurate jumper and had a cruising speed more accustomed to flat racing. As the season went on it became apparent that Sprinter Sacre was head and shoulders above what was actually a very good crop of novices.
He announced himself to the world as the top 2 mile chaser around with a facile victory in the Arkle where he effortlessly beat Cue Card, Al Ferof and Menorah barely coming off the bridle and winning eased down.
Now rarely do horses win the Cheltenham Festival being eased down, but it almost never happens in Grade 1 races, especially when the three horses behind were all Grade 1 winners. Racing had a new superstar.
A fencing natural
He then set about becoming champion chaser and this proved to be as easy as it was expected to be. In his second season as a chaser he ran five times, he won five Grade 1’s and his cumulative odds for those five races was just over 2/1. With a total winning margin of 60 lengths he was completely dominant.
Now it’s not as if he was beating sub standard horses either. Two wins over Sizing Europe and a win over Cue Card when stepped up to 2 and a half miles for the only time in his career showed he was something very special and it looked although he was going to set records that may never be beaten.
Back from the brink
Then on his seasonal debut at Kempton on December 27th 2013 he was putting in a sloppy display where he looked a shadow of his former self.
Realising something was clearly wrong Barry Geraghty pulled him up and it was later discovered he had an irregular heartbeat and we had to face up to the possibility that we may never see Sprinter Sacre in action again.
14 months later he finally returned to the track where he lined up in the Clarence House Chase and he was unsurprisingly sent off odds on to add to his Grade 1 haul.
However this was not to be and he laboured to second place behind future Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets. He returned to Cheltenham where he was pulled up in the Champion Chase and despite running well at Sandown in the Celebration Chase even his biggest fans were assuming we had seen the best of him now.
There were rumblings that Sprinter Sacre would be retired after that season as continuing his career could damage his reputation but Nicky Henderson was having none of this.
There is no better trainer at bringing a horse back to their peak after injury and he had his sights set on regaining his crown as champion chaser.
The incredible comeback
He returned to action in the Shloer Chase under his new jockey Nico De Boinville and in a performance reminiscent of him at his best he stormed to a 14 length victory that seen a tear come to my eye.
It hadn’t been the strongest of races but after two and a half years since his last win, Sprinter Sacre had finally got his head back in front. But could he still cut it at the top level?
Of course he could! Victory in the Tingle Creek over former champion Sire De Grugy and victories at Cheltenham and Sandown over the champion novice chaser Un De Sceaux showed that even after all this time and despite being robbed of his best years Sprinter Sacre was still the best 2 mile chaser in training.
Sadly injury once again came back to haunt him and he’s now been retired however I’m just glad he’s okay, and that his last ever visit to a racecourse was a winning one.
A winner of 14 of his 18 chases and over a million pounds in prize money Sprinter Sacre will go down in history as one of the best chasers of all time.
It’s unfortunate that injury struck when it did as his career always has that shadow over it, but a true champion can over come adversity and a lesser horse would not have made it back to the track never mind reclaimed their crown.
I never got to see Arkle race however I did get to see Sprinter Sacre race and I firmly believe that in 50 years time he will be the benchmark for every superstar that bursts on to the National Hunt scene. Thanks for the memories and have a great retirement.