Sprinter Sacre completes fairytale comeback at  Cheltenham

Redemption songs. They’re all the rage here this week.
Sprinter Sacre completes fairytale comeback at  Cheltenham

For Annie Power on Tuesday read Sprinter Sacre yesterday.

One definition of redemption reads as “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt” and it is difficult to argue with that in either case.

For Annie Power it was atonement for her fall last year and the thousands of betting slips shredded as a result.

For Sprinter Sacre, the payment was those two years ruined by injury and illness, but the payoff was considerable as he reclaimed the Queen Mother Chase after a three-year gap.

Both victories were celebrated with abandon and it was being hailed as one of the greatest comebacks ever recorded at Cheltenham within seconds of a finish that saw Nicky Henderson’s mount come in three-and-a-half lengths ahead of Un De Sceaux and Special Tiara.

Willie Mullins called it a win for racing while lauding the job Henderson has done in bringing a champion of this stature back from the brink.

It is, by any criteria, a remarkable chapter in the long history of training horses.

As a 5/1 second favourite, it would have been a popular winner even without the backstory and the emotional scenes in the parade ring where Henderson was close to tears and thoughts turned to the owner Caroline Mould and her recently deceased husband Raymond.

Only Moscow Flyer had regained this title before. The gap then was two years, not three, and yesterday’s triumph was achieved in breathtaking fashion.

The favourite Un De Sceaux was taken in just a handful of imperious strides although the winner was clearly fading as he met the line.

What a journey it has been.

Sprinter Sacre had swept through two seasons unbeaten before he struggled at Kempton in December 2013 and was pulled up by Barry Geraghty.

The diagnosis revealed an irregular heartbeat and so began the long and uncertain road back.

There had been clear signs of a revival this season, starting with a stunning ride here at Cheltenham last November and then at Kempton, but no-one could foresee this.

Even an awkward jump at the last couldn’t curb his momentum and a triumphant return to a deafening winners’ enclosure.

“To come back and do that after all that time, it’s incredible,” said Henderson.

“The two years in the wilderness were dark days. To have those two golden years when he was unbeaten was incredible.

“I always said that I didn’t think he’s got back there, but maybe he has.

“He had to be as good as he was to do that.”

Some things had never changed. A star he may have been, but Sprinter Sacre still lives in what Henderson calls his funny old barn at the back of the yard in the dark at Seven Barrows in Lambourn. Just where he likes it.

It was a link to better times if nothing else, but Henderson and his staff began to see a return of his old feistiness as the season progressed.

They saw enough at Kempton in December. He was coming good.

So good that they didn’t even pencil in a racecourse gallop for him since.

Nico de Boinville saw it, too.

Geraghty had partnered Sprinter Sacre in all bar two of his first 19 races from February 2010 through to last year’s disappointing run in the Queen Mother Chase here when he was ultimately pulled up, but De Boinville took over when the Irishman bowed out as stable jockey.

De Boinville is developing a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

He popped up, largely unheralded as a jockey, on Coneygree to take the Gold Cup last year, though he had bided his time in riding out both Long Run and Sprinter Sacre on the mornings of previous Cheltenham triumphs before handing over the reins come the afternoon.

“I’m lost for words,” he said rather calmly after this latest boost to a burgeoning profile.

“I thought I used every superlative last year (after winning the Gold Cup), but this unbelievable. It’s definitely on a par with winning the Gold Cup.

“Sprinter Sacre gave me his all. It is an absolute privilege to ride him. I’ve been a very lucky boy from the word go, the moment I entered Seven Barrows, that the governor let me even sit on this horse and now I’m allowed to take the reins on the track.

“I’m purely a passenger on there. The governor has shown such faith in me and so much in the horse.

“We went through some very difficult times and he has repaid our faith with a performance like that. He’s phenomenal.

“He knows what he’s doing. You just let him do it and try not to interfere too much.”

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