Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre conquers Punchestown
Sizing Europe makes Sprinter work for victory
Barry Geraghty celebrates with Sprinter Sacre after yesterday’s victory at Punchestown. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
It wasn’t a solo this time. On home turf Sizing Europe made him work for it. But the end-result was the same: Sprinter Sacre conquered Punchestown and a lot of Irish racing hearts into the bargain.
The peerless British superstar that normally swaggers to success had to slog a bit more for last evening’s €200,000 Boylesports Champion Chase but came up trumps when it was required to get down and dirty in the Punchestown mud.
There was less than half-a-dozen-lengths back to Sizing Europe compared to the 19-length rout at Cheltenham which copper-fastened claims that the “Black Aeroplane” might just be the greatest thing since sliced bread, or as it is known in steeplechase terms, Arkle.
But that mattered little to the record first-day festival crowd of 18,607 that applauded Sprinter Sacre into the parade-ring beforehand and then accorded the 1 to 9 favourite a rousing reception afterwards.
They realised great champions have a habit of finding a way to win even when not firing on all cylinders and jockey Barry Geraghty caught the mood when, after being asked to rate the performance, instead rated the horse – “12 out of 10”.
The sense of occasion at witnessing an exceptional talent was only emphasised by the similarly effusive reception for the runner-up.
“Finishing second might not be great for my financial situation but this is great for Irish racing. It shows how much we appreciate a good horse in this country,” said Sizing Europe’s trainer Henry De Bromhead. “At least we got yer man off the bridle this time. But he is awesome.”
British champion trainer-elect Nicky Henderson has been coming to Punchestown for many years but sealed his status as a festival legend here by travelling the best horse he’s ever had outside Britain for the first time.
Henderson also had the added pressure of fearing that yesterday’s race was something of an after-thought at the end of a tumultuous season.
But that anxiety was forgotten in the glow of having given Irish jump racing’s biggest festival a singular moment. “There was no point sitting at home. This is a nation of horse lovers and this is a stunning horse,” he said. “I hope Ireland enjoyed seeing him because that’s why he’s here.”
Yesterday’s attendance beat the previous first-day record set in 2008 and was up almost 30 per cent (4,260) on last year’s tally.
But while they basked in one of those rare “I-was-there” moments, both Henderson and Geraghty looked like relieved men having pushed even an exceptional horse like Sprinter Sacre to run at Cheltenham, Liverpool and Punchestown in just over a month.