Melling stroll for sublime Sacre

It was supposed to be the race of the season but the John Smith’s Melling Chase served as just another opportunity to look on with wonder at Sprinter Sacre.

Melling stroll for sublime Sacre

That connections of Cue Card and Flemenstar had no excuses and could only offer their own assessments of Sprinter Sacre’s greatness tells its own story.

Henderson clutched a rail by the Aintree winner’s enclosure with anxiety as the race unfolded but nerves were swiftly followed by misty-eyed relief as the 1-3 favourite strolled clear without jockey Barry Geraghty moving a muscle.

Now unbeaten in nine starts over fences and already granted the status of jump racing’s Frankel, the only new piece of information to be gleaned about Sprinter Sacre is that he will not be asked to stretch his stamina further and will defend his Champion Chase crown next year.

Cue Card, the Ryanair Chase-winning pride of Dorset, was still on home territory in terms of trip and shared second billing in the market at 7-1, with Irish hero Flemenstar, who avoided Cheltenham through poor health and had been unable to see out three miles during the winter.

Flemenstar managed a few of his typically extravagant leaps but began to weaken with four fences left, and it was down to Cue Card to be spared the pummeling he received from Sprinter Sacre in last year’s Arkle.

Sprinter Sacre had been a little slow at a couple of fences down the back but it was business as usual turning for home, with Geraghty sidling alongside his rivals and eventually easing four and a half lengths ahead of the brave and dogged Cue Card, who gave his all.

Some 19 lengths could be measured before a sight of Flemenstar and Henderson’s other runner, last year’s Champion Chase star Finian’s Rainbow.

“He’s what you dream about,” said Henderson.

“I didn’t know if we’d ever see him over two and a half, but Barry was never unsure about it.

“He’s got a huge amount of ability and knows how to use it.

“I don’t think anybody has taught him about jumping. It is sheer natural talent and it’s good to watch when it’s over.”

The trainer was asked if he had ever seen a better horse in his lifetime.

“No,” he said. “Even I have to say, that is as good as you get.”

Considering future options, which could still include Punchestown on April 23, he said: “I’m not ruling it in or out, I sort of think I’d like to show him to the people in Ireland one day.

“He’s not had hard races, has he? Let’s see how he comes out of this.

“Barry says that is probably as far as he wants to go. I think we’ll stick to the two-mile route and I’d have thought next season would be exactly the same.”

While owner Caroline Mould admitted she was so apprehensive she had to wind the window down on the journey to Aintree for air, Geraghty was just as calm post-race as he explained his tactics.

“He was brilliant,” he said.

“He travelled a bit too well and I had to take him back a few times to make use of his jumping. Because of the distance I didn’t want to get to the front too soon.”

Mould did manage to say: “There’s huge pressure. I’m fairly fatalistic and one of these days something might happen. You just have to try to enjoy it.”

Cue Card’s trainer Colin Tizzard quickly offered the tribute to the winner: “Sprinter Sacre is the best I’ve seen. He’d win at any trip, wouldn’t he?

“Joe (Tizzard) said he felt as good as he did at Cheltenham, but he’s changing as a horse and we don’t have to make the running with him forever. We might try three miles again.

“We won’t be rushing to take on Sprinter Sacre again, maybe just once a year. He’s had a great season anyway."

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