Grissell guide indicates Sprinter Sacre can return
16 January 2015
Speculating on whether Sprinter Sacre will perform, let alone win, the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday, is more of an intellectual challenge rather than a potential path to riches.
Only last week Be Ready, the highest-profile horse since Sprinter Sacre to suffer the heart condition ofatrial fibrillation, finished last at Meydan on his comeback run for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Be Ready was another patient of Celia Marr, the equine vet who has guided Nicky Henderson through the intricacies of heart-rate monitors and other such equipment.
At a lower grade, there was more upbeat news for fans of the highest-rated horse in training.
Diana Grissell remains the most recent conditioner to nurse back a National Hunt horse from atrial fibrillation into the winners’ enclosure.
It took the East Sussex handler three attempts, however, to do so.
Arbeo suffered the heart condition at Sandown in March, and then ran a shocker at Kempton in May in a race that set a course record.
He was given a lot of time off and Grissell had to adopt any trick she could think of to get him interested in racing again.
Speaking to her from her Brightling Park base, Grissell described Arbeo’s will to race in the lead-up to his comeback run in November as ‘unenthusiastic’, which is not how Henderson currently describes Sprinter Sacre’s well-being, or how he appeared when he underwent a racecourse gallop at Newbury in December.
“I was so desperate to get him back that we tried everything,” Grissell said. “I changed his routine as much as possible, which of course would not suit every horse.
“I moved him to an outside stable. I galloped him through forests, in different directions around the farm, basically anything to freshen him up so his eyes were popping out of his head.”
Arbeo finished a respectable fourth at Fontwell in November on his return, and although he had little chance of finishing in the places rider Marc Goldstein kept his mount going all the way to the line.
It was a crucial aspect to the horse’s rehabilitation, according to the trainer.
“We needed to know that the resolution was still there,” she added. “We then tried him in blinkers and it didn’t work, but he ran a very good race and stayed on well when he won at Huntingdon last week.
“He is much better for the race. He is quite cocky now, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
“It was not so much the win that was important, but the fact that he ran well.”
Grissell is unsure, however, that her little ‘mind games’ will work again, which is relevant to the sort of conjuring that Henderson has been utilizing with Sprinter Sacre these past few weeks.
When monitoring a racehorse going at below racing speed following heart problems of this nature the heart can beat a little faster to make up for the fact that it is not as efficient as it should be, or has been.
It is only when the horse hits racing speed that the heart starts beating at levels that are required to kick start the turbo charge that includes the spleen and massive intakes of air, that the problems can occur again.
The natural resting heart rate of a racehorse can be around 26 beats per minute, whereas a Flat horse going full pelt can be as much as 240. There is significant room for error, therefore, when it comes to judging how well each horses' heart is working.
Sprinter Sacre’s heart condition quickly righted itself, but like Arbeo he was lacklustre for a long period of time. Henderson’s 'will he/won't he' approach that included almost daily updates at around the time of the Tingle Creek last month illustrated the sort of unquantifiable condition Sprinter Sacre was in.
The key to unlocking the Clarence House Chase is that Sprinter Sacre is attacking his fences in schooling. The Black Aeroplane schooled last Friday in a session that Henderson has described as ‘amazing’. He looked well and approached his fences at Newbury last month with vigour.
With approximately 10,000 races to bet on a year, it is fairly easy to sit this one out but if you must have a bet I think he does look up against it on his first start.
Barry Geraghty is unlikely to push his mount overly, but such is the raw athletic ability of the former champion that he would have to race markedly below form not to win.
Sprinter Sacre has around 25lbs in hand of his nearest rival – he was rated 188 the last time he ran in comparison to Twinlight and Dodging Bullet’s 165.
Denman was good enough to win a Hennessy following his atrial fibrillation, but on his comeback he posted a figure around 26lbs shy of his thumping of Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In the 2011 Blue Riband he posted a figure around 10lbs adrift of his glory days.
The turf at Ascot will be heavy, but Sprinter Sacre has already proven himself on such going.
If Sprinter Sacre does not win on Saturday, or at least run competitively, it might be time to call it a day.
If he still shows enthusiasm, he has enough in hand on the current two-mile chasers to still be a real force come Cheltenham. Saturday might be a bridge too far, however.
The best bet on the card for me is in the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle.
Carole’s Sprit is the 9-4 favourite, but Oliver Sherwood has an intriguing runner in Mischievous Milly.
Her form behind Glens Melody on heavy going last season would be enough to give Carole’s Spirit a test, and she ran well on soft ground on her first start back for 11 months when second to Aurore D’Estruval at Sandown this month.
Land Of Vic is certain to ensure there is a decent pace in the nine-runner field, and Bitofapuzzle, who is unproven over three miles, will push her all the way.
The better pace is sure to suit Michchievous Milly, and Leighton Aspell may well improve his record of only two wins from 18 starts at Ascot in the past five seasons.
Geoffrey Riddle's Saturday tip:
1.50 Ascot: Mischievous Milly at 6-1 with Bet365