Sprinter Sacre offered the conclusive proof for his promotion to racing’s new superstar in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
Nicky Henderson has often admitted that only the spectacular will do, such have been the extraordinary heights the striking black gelding had soared to in his seven previous starts over fences, and the trainer is left so nervous he is barely able to watch.
Barry Geraghty, who rode one of the recent two-miling greats Moscow Flyer, had to be measured in order not to denigrate the former champion, but he too struggled to do his mount justice after he had just dismantled last year’s runner-up and 2011 winner Sizing Europe.
Sprinter Sacre has easily slipped into the position of poster-boy for the sport, vacated by both Frankel on the Flat and Kauto Star in the National Hunt.
While his effortless victories, this time by 19 lengths, will wow racing fans, it is uncertain quite how he can improve on his feats so far as he is unlikely to be stretched any further in distance and only his stablemate, Tuesday’s Arkle hero Simonsig, would surely represent any imminent challenge.
But to measure his ability officially, the British Horseracing Authority’s handicapper John de Moraville put the performance at 188, 2lb higher than Master Minded five years early and just 2lb short of Kauto Star, the highest-rated horse in the history of the jump classifications.
“That was probably the worst five minutes of my life,” said Henderson after his 49th Festival winner, which took him ahead of his rival Paul Nicholls in the trainers’ championship.
“It was hell. As long as Barry enjoyed it, that’s great, but it’s over.
“He was what we hoped we would see. It does leave you speechless. What he looks like and what he does at home is one thing, but what he does out there is totally unique.”
He went on: “It’s pure ability. He’s nearly that sort of perfect racehorse.
“It’s not always the good-looking ones that are the good ones, but in this case it is. He has that wow factor.
“We are very lucky to have him and you just have to hold your breath and enjoy it. I hope a few people out there have enjoyed watching it too.”
Sprinter Sacre, a chance purchase by Raymond and Caroline Mould from a ’job lot’ of 21 offered by bloodstock agent David Minton, was a 1-4 favourite here and is already odds-on for next year’s renewal.
As for the future, Henderson said: “He’s just a two-miler and there aren’t very many races in the programme for him, but we have talked about Punchestown and I’m sure Richie Galway (Punchestown manager) would like us to talk about it a bit more.”
Referring to any potential match-up with Simonsig, he said: “It may well happen as they are both genuine two-milers. I guess Barry will be the one with the problem as he will have to choose which one to ride.”
Geraghty sat in third during the early part of the race as Mail De Bievre made a fruitless bid from the front, but the only two that mattered were left to their own devices at the top of the hill.
One minor crossing of wires between horse and jockey at the fourth-last was Sprinter Sacre’s only slight moment of worry.
Sizing Europe took a wrong step when stumbling at the path before the second-last fence but Geraghty’s red colours were already disappearing into the distance and he could lap up the adoration of the Cheltenham masses as he cleared the last in isolation.
Geraghty said: “He’s a beautiful horse to ride. I’ve never ridden one as natural to jump. Things would have to go very wrong to go wrong.
“I’ve ridden some brilliant horses over the years, but the ease and the grace that he does it with sets him apart.
“It’s hard to compare like with like. Moscow Flyer was a super horse, but this horse is unbelievable. It’s hard to take in.”
Sizing Europe, who himself finished six lengths ahead of Wishfull Thinking and Sanctuaire, had been given options over longer distances at the meeting but trainer Henry de Bromhead had hardly made a foolish final decision.
“We have been beaten by a phenomenon,” he said.
“Andrew (Lynch) said he tripped on the path, but that it made no difference to the result.
“He’s still finished second in a Champion Chase and even at 11 he is still a very good horse, but we have been beaten by a special one.
“We made the decision to run in this (rather than the Ryanair Chase or the Cheltenham Gold Cup) and there is nothing we can do about that now.
“He was ridden to win the race. He jumped brilliant today and we know he stays further so we will do whatever is best for the horse and I am sure Punchestown will come into it.
“He seems as good as ever, but the winner put us in our place.”