Punchestown clash between Sprinter Sacre and Flemenstar is on

Peter Casey’s star will first run in Melling Chase at Aintree

 Sprinter Sacre on his way to winning the  Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Sprinter Sacre on his way to winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase.


Punchestown’s authorities hope Sprinter Sacre proves a big festival draw when he travels to Ireland next month and steeplechasings top-rated new superstar could end up facing an exciting new challenge to his two-mile supremacy in Flemenstar.

Peter Casey yesterday confirmed Flemenstar on track to return to action in the two-and-a-half-mile Melling Chase at Liverpool in 18 days time, and was far from running scared of the prospect of a post-Aintree clash with a horse the respected Timeform organisation has rated superior to all chasers bar Arkle and Flyingbolt.

The hugely popular Flemenstar has been on the sidelines since finishing runner-up in the Hennessy last month, after which he was found to have a lung infection. “He’s grand now, not a bother on him, and he’s going to Liverpool for the Melling over two and a half,” Casey said yesterday. “And if all goes well there, he’ll probably go to Punchestown for the two-mile race. The two-mile race was what we wanted to run in at Cheltenham.”

Sprinter Sacre put up a stunning Champion Chase display at Cheltenham last week to beat Sizing Europe by 19 lengths and earn comparison with some of steeplechasing’s legendary names.

Litmus test
Nicky Henderson has confirmed the Boylesports Champion Chase on day one of the Punchestown Festival next month will be Sprinter Sacre’s next start, a mouth-watering prospect for Irish racing fans, and something of a litmus test for whether or not star horses have an impact on attendances in this country.

“We have to be optimistic he will. He’s a phenomenal horse and seems to have captured the imagination the way he wins. We’ve already had people on wanting to book for the day Sprinter Sacre runs,” Punchestown’s manager Richie Galway said yesterday.

Last year’s opening day festival crowd reached almost 14,000 but it is rare for a star horse to significantly impact on crowd figures in Ireland. “In my time here no horse has ever made an appreciable difference to the attendance. We’ve had Moscow Flyer, Kicking King, War Of Attrition, Kauto Star to an extent, and it is still other considerations like the weather that matter much more.

“The only one that made any sort of tangible difference on the day was Denman for some reason. There were people wearing Denman colours and scarves that day.

Star names
“It keeps surprising me that top horses don’t make more of a difference, but to be brutally honest, they mostly don’t. Having said that, Sprinter Sacre does seem to be that bit different,” Galway added.

One thing that seems certain for the final big festival of the Irish National Hunt season is an abundance of star names.

Hurricane Fly and a potential clash between Quevega and Solwhit in the Stayers’ Hurdle are among the possible highlights between April 23rd-27th. Sprinter Sacre, though, is still likely to eclipse them all. “What he does provide for Punchestown is great credibility, and a lot of wider interest,” Galway said. “You have to think people will come to see him run.”

There’s no chance of Barry Geraghty mistaking Panther Claw for Sprinter Sacre in today’s €50,000 EBF Novice Chase Final at Navan but despite being labelled a “slow horse” by his trainer Paul Nolan, the Gigginstown grey looks to have what’s required here.

Stamina rather than speed will the priority on the forecast going and Panther Claw proved that is his strong-point with a running-on third in last January’s Thyestes at Gowran.