Sprinter Sacre ready to go the distance

Saddling winners at the Cheltenham Festival is almost second nature to trainer Nicky Henderson with his horses often seen performing at the peak of their powers come the big occasion.
Sprinter Sacre ready to go the distance

With a record 53 Festival winners to his name it would come as little surprise if the Seven Barrows handler was to add to that tally at this year’s meeting, judging by the arsenal he has at his disposal.

The likes of Altior and Buveur D’Air will bid to move him on to win No 54 in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle — but it is the return to form of a past champion that has got Henderson most excited.

After two seasons in the doldrums Sprinter Sacre has been rejuvenated, producing an emotional victory in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November before backing it up in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

Although the 10-year-old is unlikely to ever quite match his efforts that saw him chalk up seven successive Grade One wins across the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns, the 16-times race winner has arguably the best chance he has of winning the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase since triumphing by 19 lengths back in 2013.

Henderson said: “Sprinter Sacre excites me. He is at his best of this season now. He is in great form and we are happy with him.

“He is in very good form and he has come back to something better than he has been, that’s for sure.

“It is difficult to quantify him as when he and Simonsig were at their best nothing else could possibly work with them. They were just a notch above everything else.

“The gap has narrowed between Sprinter Sacre and the herd, but they haven’t caught him yet. He is nicely aggressive at the moment — he wants to do it — his attitude is great.

“He is in really good form, you can never be confident, but I’d be hopeful. His confidence is so much higher, he had issues all over the place last season. “We are able to get there on our terms and his terms this year without forcing anything.”

While it was only in Listed company that Sprinter Sacre triumphed on his last visit to Prestbury Park, it was one that was not only celebrated by the admiring crowds with a reception usually saved for a winner at the Festival, but a win that gave Henderson as much delight as those victories attained at the highest level.

He said: “Nico (De Boinville) felt he was so good at Cheltenham first time out this season — we did have him very fit, as it was the acid test.

“I said to Nico first time out ‘don’t disappoint him, if he wants to take you, great’. He went up the hill and suddenly took off, like he used to, and the race was dead in 10 strides. He got a bit tired in the end, but that is where we can find a little more.

“That win at Cheltenham in November was great. Although it was not the most informative race in the world, it was better. He was doing what he hadn’t been doing.

“The nicest thing about it was the appreciation he got from that crowd at Cheltenham, it was very special as it has been hard work.”

Although required to work much harder get the better of Sire De Grugy at Kempton over Christmas, a victory that was the complete contrast of his chief rival Un De Sceaux’s success in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot the following month, it unearthed a side previously never seen before in the talented gelding.

And it is one that could aid him in his battle with Willie Mullins’ new kid on the block on Wednesday.

He said: “I don’t think there is any doubt he was fresher and better at Cheltenham than at Kempton.

“We want to get him back to that and he will be a sharper horse than Cheltenham the first time and a better horse than he was at Kempton and I am sure he likes Cheltenham better.

“What we all liked about it was at Kempton was that he was in a situation that he never had to be in before, where he has had to knuckle down from the last and roll up his sleeves.

“He (Un De Sceaux) could easily get into a position where he is dictating the race. If you are that much better it is easy. Somebody has got to get to him (Un De Sceaux) and hopefully that will be us and hopefully we can throw down a challenge.”

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