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Six career-defining moments in the Sprinter Sacre legend

Monday 14 November 2016

A tearful Nicky Henderson announced the retirement of the great Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham on Sunday.

The “Black Aeroplane” put in some of the most mesmeric performances in his 24-race career, winning 18 of them including two Queen Mother Champion Chases. 

Geoffrey Riddle lreflects on the races that created the legend.

Betfair Super Saturday Chase, Newbury 2012:

It is tempting to start at the beginning, when Sprinter Sacre was sent off the 8-11 favourite for a bumper at Ascot in 2010 but Sprinter Sacre’s monstrous potential as one of the best chasers of all time was unearthed at Newbury two years later.

Sprinter Sacre made his third chase start in the Game Spirit Chase and such was his reputation he was 2-5 when the tapes went up.

He took a lead from Celebration Chase winner French Opera but from the seventh fence he motored to the front and his engine continued to purr all the way to the line. French Opera may have been only six lengths back, but when clock watchers looked at what was a record time it was a special performance as Barry Geraghty admitted his partner was barely out of second gear. 

Arkle Trophy, Cheltenham, 2012:

As soon as Sprinter Sacre had crossed the line at Newbury bookmakers went as short as Even money about him winning the Arkle Trophy. Sprinter Sacre was sent off at 8-11 to beat just five rivals for what was the smallest field in the history of the race. But what a field it was. Cue Card, who has gone on to win six Grade One races was seven lengths behind. Menorah, who went to win the Manifesto Novices Chase and a string of Grade Twos, was 22 lengths back and talented grey Al Ferof was almost four lengths farther behind.

Queen Mother Champion Chase, 2013:

At Cheltenham on Sunday Nicky Henderson said Sprinter Sacre was unbeatable in his pomp, and he turned up for his first Champion Chase as the 1-4 favourite – the shortest priced Festival favourite since Arkle in the 1966 Gold Cup.

Sprinter Sacre put in a commanding performance, and although he made a slight error at the last ditch, he pummelled former Champion Chase winner Sizing Europe by 19 lengths.

An abiding memory of the race was when he cruised up to Sizing Europe four fences from home and an obstacle later he was gone.

Desert Orchid Chase, Kempton, 2013:

A list of Sprinter Sacre’s landmark races would not be complete without the 2013 Desert Orchid. His resurgent year last season means nothing without him reaching his lowest ebb. Sprinter Sacre had not raced since he had trounced Sizing Europe in the Punchestown gold Cup on his only start in Ireland when he turned up at Kempton. Sent off the 2-9 favourite, Sprinter Sacre was held up in last place by Barry Geraghty, who moved him up behind the leaders before the fifth fence. From there, Sprinter Sacre started to lose ground and was pulled up for the first time in his career. He was later found to have suffered an irregular heartbeat.

Shloer Chase, Cheltenham, 2015:

Sprinter Sacre had not won for two and a half years when he returned to Prestury Park for the Shloer Chase. His absence from the top meant that he was receiving weight, as much as 10lbs from Mr Mole, and was a steady 15-8 favourite at the off. It was not immediately apparent what Sprinter Sacre would turn up – the listless one from the season before, or the triumphant hero from seasons past. Tanking along on the bit four out, the Cheltenham faithful knew what was coming by then and he thumped Somersby by 14 lengths. The champion was back.

Queen Mother Champion Chase, Cheltenham 2016:

Everybody loves a comeback story and Sprinter Sacre did not disappoint his legion of fans. Henderson had admitted by this stage of Sprinter Sacre’s career that he was the property of the public, but despite his affection in the hearts of National Hunt aficionados he was still 5-1 to Un De Sceaux’s 4-6 for the two-mile crown.

It is a shame that Sprinter Sacre was wearing earplugs, because as he reeled in the toiling favourite and spat him out the roar could be heared at the top of Cleeve Hill. Sprinter Sacre was not foot perfect from there – he nodded from the third last, and was not clean at the last but he powered up the hill to beat Un De Sceaux by three and a half lengths. 

Watch Sprinter Sacre make his racecourse debut at Ascot in 2010 below. 

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