Sprinter Sacre looks the one to beat in Queen Mother champion Chase

Henderson star to justify all the hype

Sprinter Sacre and  Barry Geraghty the one to beat in the  Queen Mother Champion Chase. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Sprinter Sacre and Barry Geraghty the one to beat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho


Sprinter Sacre is the poster-horse of Cheltenham 2013, jump racing’s own swaggering pretty-boy with the natural ability to match his looks, who could very easily land today’s Queen Mother Champion Chase without a glove being laid on him.

A forecast SP of as low as 1/5, the same as the legendary Flyingbolt in 1966, indicates nothing else. The common wisdom has it half a dozen opponents, including Ireland ’s very own former two-mile champ, Sizing Europe, are in the business solely of providing at least a semblance of competition to Sprinter Sacre.

And all that may be correct. The horse christened the “aeroplane” by trainer Nicky Henderson and variously described by jockey Barry Geraghty as “gorgeous, spectacular and amazing” may indeed assume the two-mile crown without having to break sweat.

He is clearly a rare beast. Geraghty made his name on one of the all-time great two-milers in Moscow Flyer and remains loath to describe Sprinter Sacre as his superior. But you get the feeling it is only nostalgia and fondness for an old hero that is preventing the jockey from doing so.

But rarer still is the champion that climbs the Cheltenham hill with his head in his chest. And the fascination of this Day Two feature revolves around what might happen if Sprinter Sacre can be taken out of his comfort zone.

Never under pressure
He looks like a champion, jumps and races like one too: and it’s hardly his fault spectacular ability means he has never been put under any sort of pressure in his career over fences to date. Not surprisingly Nicky Henderson had more prosaic considerations on his mind yesterday but Cheltenham’s most successful trainer knows better than anyone not to get too presumptuous around here.

“He knows he’s good looking, he knows he’s good – it really is ‘look and watch me.’ It’s all flashy and show,” he admitted.

“I’m never going to say he’s the best (I have trained) – I don’t know who was – but he’s right up there. He’s something to watch and, from Barry’s point of view, he says he’s the most spectacular thing he’s ever sat on. He enjoys it, but I don’t. “The pressure is on because everybody expects one of his flashy performances and I hope he can deliver again. He finds it ridiculously easy but Cheltenham is Cheltenham and the course takes plenty of jumping,” Henderson added.

Sprinter Sacre has been so impressive up to now, it must be odds-on he could simply kick into another gear again if presented with a problem and overwhelm everything. But only the most fervent fans will feel comfortable taking very long odds-on about it.

Sizing Europe is a wonderful horse who has burrowed his way into the affections of Irish race-fans over the years, as much through some obvious vulnerabilities as his great strengths.

Unfortunately one of those strengths – a jumping technique to compare with Sprinter Sacre – is compromised by testing ground. Against that is the stamina that has seen him placed at Grade One level over three miles and which made tomorrow’s Ryanair a realistic festival alternative.

Mail de Bievre will get support today, almost as much for having been seen just the once this season when spectacular for a long way in the Denman at Newbury. Sanctuaire is another free-wheeler but couldn’t cope at all with Sprinter Sacre in the Tingle Creek while the others look plain out-classed.

Sprinter Sacre might just out-class everything else too. The tantalising possibility exists he may be different class to most everything on four legs. And it’s that which makes what might otherwise be dismissed as a punting irrelevance the centrepiece of today’s action.