The Amazing Sprinter Sacre

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After suffering heart fibrillations, many doubted whether Sprinter Sacre would ever return to his imperious best. However, in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival Wednesday, Nicky Henderson’s 10-year-old silenced those doubters with an authoritative performance. Having travelled kindly in behind the leaders, the son of Network made good headway following the third last to quicken away from his two main rivals, Un De Sceaux and Special Tiara. Turning for home, the gelding found plenty for de Boinville’s urgings to register a commanding three and a half-length victory in what was an emotionally charged performance.
 
In the press conference held after the race, Henderson paid tribute to those who have stuck by his jumping sensation: “Thanks to everybody because when things were not going well we had support from everyone. We were put under no pressure and no one called for his retirement. That helped the horse and it helped us get through it so we are very thankful to everyone. Everything was happening better this year and we thank everyone who has been part of his resurrection because that is what it is. This horse knows he is good and what it is like to be at the top and I know he enjoys all of this.”
 
Henderson suggested, Sprinter Sacre has looked rejuvenated at Seven Barrows this term. He remarked: “We had to be positive in that he was improving but there has been a complete difference in the horse this year. He came in looking great in the summer and when you see him in the paddock today compared to last year, they were two different animals. He did not thrive last year but today was a totally different horse. We knew after Kempton [Desert Orchid Chase victory] that we did not want to run him again. Nico [de Boinville] thought he was flat at Kempton and I thought that was right. Nico gave him a great ride today and has been important in the horse’s whole life not just in the resurrection but also in the early days when he schooled him and he deserves every accolade he gets. This horse has got that charisma which makes what has happened so special. He built his own atmosphere here today. It was Sprinter’s own way of saying thank you. I must say thank you to a very special horse as he is just brilliant. 
 
“The last three weeks he has thrived. He did one lovely bit of work and then when he schooled two weeks ago he was just like he used to be and suddenly he was jumping in front of us again like he used to. We were positive, we were not confident but optimistic. The last week has been really good, he did not need a racecourse gallop and he has looked really well. We have not done much with him in the last ten days and we did not want him to peak too soon.
 
“My biggest moment of doubt was at the top of the hill where I thought Ruby Walsh had plenty under him. It was the first moment in the last month I felt this would not happen but 10 strides later we were away. We were fairly confident he would be competitive today and so we were pretty bullish.
 
“We thought about retirement but Caroline Mould said let me know what you think. He came in this year and looked great, started in a better way and has held it together, he was not like that last year. He has been a happy horse all year. You do think he will not ever get back to his best. I still never forgive myself for running him at Aintree after winning here as I promised and wanted to go to Ireland. We slotted Aintree in the middle and I thought that was a mistake. You think they are having easy races when they win on the bridle but mentally it is a huge effort even if they are winning on the bridle. We came up with the right conclusion in the end.
 
“Him and Simonsig during the early years we had to work them hard but now we give him easy work. I don’t want to work him against good work horses and just wanted to build him up again. He was dominant today and the pace looked honest. He travelled well today and once he got to Ruby, we were fairly confident he would win as nothing was going to get to him off that pace. The horse is enjoying racing again and that is what it is all about. He has that showmanship, is a good looking horse and is an exceptionally talented horse.”
 
Henderson added: “If My Tent Or Yours and Sprinter Sacre had won I may have retired so I have Annie Power to thank for that. It has been very emotional it is a real rollercoaster and we are in dreamland.”
It was also a major win for jockey Nico de Boinville almost a year on from his Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup success on Coneygree. De Boinville said: “I thought he [Un De Sceaux] had got away but coming down the hill, I asked Sprinter to go and he went through a gap and I wanted to see what Un De Sceaux really had. When Sprinter Sacre gets up to another horse’s girth he really steps up again through the gears and takes the sting out of him and that is what he did again today. 
 
“He is not far off the Sprinter from 2013. He put a sensational schooling round the other day, horses were setting off five lengths behind and finishing 15 lengths behind. Half of the time it is just keeping a lid on him. I am very grateful to the Guvnor [Henderson] he has brought me and the horse along steadily.”
 
The rider added: “When you win these big races you have to enjoy them and that has definitely been Sprinter’s greatest achievement in his whole career today.”
 
 

 
INCREDIBLE SPRINTER SACRE
                          
Nico de Boinville, the winning rider, said: “I’m just speechless. This means so much to us. For Sprinter Sacre to come back like that. Full credit to the guv’nor. We’ve had a couple of desperate years with him – he was close to retirement – and for him to do that… I knew I had to get upsides Un De Sceaux and see what he was made of…..can’t get over it. It’s incredible, I’m flabbergasted. At the top of the hill I thought they’d got away from me, to be honest. But once we jumped three out and he got into gear, then I could start to ride my race and see what Un De Sceaux really had. The day has been phenomenal, pure and simple. I don’t think anything will mean as much to me as this. The roar into the winner’s enclosure was very special. I thought we got an amazing one when we won here in November, but this raised it to another level and took the roof off the place.”
 
Nicky Henderson, Sprinter Sacre’s trainer, commented: “Dreams do actually happen, they come alive. It’s nice to have everyone on your side, without being unfair to Willie (Mullins). I knew we had some supporters and Sprinter Sacre has been a spectacular horse. To come and do that after all that time – everyone’s done a spectacular job and all the time and effort has been worth it. I said if he and Tent [My Tent Or Yours, second in Champion Hurdle] both won I’d retire, but luckily Tent got beaten! Sprinter’s been a very special horse, we had those two golden years when he was unbeatable. He had to be as good as he ever was to do that today. There were days when it wasn’t so good and we thought it wasn’t working but Caroline [Mould] and Ray [her late husband] – and we miss him enormously, bless him – have been fantastic. I was never under any pressure at any stage, so we could just do our own thing. And if it didn’t happen it didn’t happen. But they’re triers, and we’ve all tried. November was special but this was something else. We knew that if it did happen it might be popular because he is a horse who has got that swagger and look about him. There is something about a dethroned king coming back because it is tough to do – age creeps up with all of us! There was a lot of work behind the scenes when things weren’t going so well and it is an awful lot better when you know things are going well. Nico deserves a lot of credit. He has been riding him all those years when Barry was on him. There was a bit of searching at the beginning of the year about who would ride him and, to be fair, Caroline said Nico is back on him now. He knows him and knew what he had to do. Yes there was pressure but he has won a Gold Cup. This has probably given me the most pleasure. We can go back to good old days of See You Then when we were young and thinking it was good fun. It is not a different game anymore but this place is very special and to come back do it is enormous.”
 
Caroline Mould, the winning owner, reflected: “I sort of did think it might happen, Nicky and everyone have worked so hard. I don’t know what to say, I’m gobsmacked.”
 
Willie Mullins – trainer of the second Un De Sceaux who started the 4/6 favourite, declared: “Fantastic performance from Sprinter Scare and a fantastic performance from Nicky Henderson. It would have been nice to have won but this was a winner for racing.”
 
Barry Geraghty, Sprinter Sacre’s former rider, declared: “It’s great to see it, though I can’t say it was easy for me watching it. But it’s brilliant and it’s great to see Sprinter Sacre back. I think the ground was key to him.”
 
Ruby Walsh, rider of Un De Sceaux, explained: “Mine didn’t have the speed on the ground. Special Tiara was able to head me, and then Sprinter Sacre just had more gears in the end. It was great for the horse, and for Nico. I wasn’t sure I’d even be second but mine is as honest as the day is long, but he just didn’t have the gears on the ground.”