Sprinter Sacre’s facile success in the Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase proved the highlight of a four-timer for trainer Nicky Henderson at Sandown.
On a memorable afternoon for the Seven Barrows handler, he also teamed up with stable jockey Barry Geraghty to claim the Markel Insurance Henry VIII Novices’ Chase with Captain Conan.
Sprinter Sacre (4-11 favourite) was the undoubted star of the show though, extending his unbeaten run over fences to six on his seasonal bow in the Grade One feature.
Much had been made of the showdown between Sprinter Sacre and the Paul Nicholls-trained Sanctuaire but it turned into a one-horse race on the day.
Ruby Walsh set out to make all aboard Sanctuaire and built up an eight-length advantage at one stage, but Sprinter Sacre reeled him back in with the minimum of effort to take charge three fences from home.
Geraghty’s mount was then barely out of second gear as he pulled away from the toiling Sanctuaire to run out a 15-length winner without really coming off the bridle.
Sanctuaire paid for his early exploits as he was eventually caught for second by the fast-finishing Kumbeshwar.
Henderson said: “He has got the ’wow’ factor. It’s been a long time since Aintree and I admit to being petrified about Sanctuaire.
“I knew that horse had got pace and would put it into the race which would stretch anybody and it was as soft as our fellow would ever want to go on.
“He’s just class isn’t he?
“I knew that I had something a bit special and I just wanted it to stay that way.
“That’s as good a two-mile chaser as you’ll ever see.
“He will probably go for the Victor Chandler and Cheltenham, I don’t know for sure, but there aren’t that many options and then on to Aintree or Punchestown.”
Paddy Power make Sprinter Sacre the 1-2 favourite from evens for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival.
Henderson could also have an Arkle contender on his hands after an excellent round of jumping saw Captain Conan run out an easy winner of the Grade One novices’ chase.
A winner at Cheltenham on his fencing debut, Captain Conan was sent off the 4-7 favourite for Henderson and Geraghty and he never really looked like being beaten.
Hinterland tried to make a race of it but a fine leap at the second last gave Captain Conan a valuable couple of lengths and Geraghty just had to push him out for a three-and-a-half-length verdict.
“That was great,” said Henderson.
“He didn’t really want to do it on his own but no one was going to help and Barry let him enjoy himself.
“That was very good for a big horse and he kept galloping and he was agile and tidy.
“I wouldn’t rule out going further at some stage, but on that ground and a stiff track, we might as well as stay at two miles. He’s not a slow horse.”
Boylesports and Paddy Power are a best priced 7-1 about Captain Conan for the Arkle, while Sky Bet were more impressed going 5-1 behind Henderson’s favourite Simonsig.
Henderson’s third leg came up courtesy of Petit Robin (11-1), who fended off Into Wain by a nose in the Sportingbet Handicap Hurdle .
Amateur Nico De Boinville was aboard the winner and Henderson was quick to hail the performance.
He said: “This is an amazing comeback as the horse fractured his shoulder in a fall at Ascot.
“Nine times out of 10 that would be curtains, but former owner John Poynton prevailed and thanks to him and the vets, he’s racing again.
“He was a very good two-mile chaser and he’ll have to go back over fences after that. He really seems to be enjoying it.”
Henderson and Geraghty’s winning spree was initiated by Golden Hoof, who looked a nice prospect for the future when justifying even-money favouritism in the opening John Oakley 50th Birthday ’National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle.
The trainer said: “It all fell into place for him as it did at Kempton and he hasn’t had to dig deep yet.
“He’s going to be a chaser and he’ll probably have one more run during this part of the campaign before being put away for something in the spring, but I’ve nothing in mind at the moment.”
Alan King picked up a quick across-the-card double after Araldur (10-1) landed the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle under a last gasp drive from Wayne Hutchinson, having won the fillies’ juvenile hurdle at Aintree earlier with L’Unique.
He said: “I can’t believe that it’s four years since Araldur won the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase as a four-year-old.
“He’s one of a group of four who had problems at the end of last season and I didn’t expect him to win. He wants a proper galloping track and I think that he’ll stay over hurdles for at least another run.”
Kentford Grey Lady (9-2) will now step back up in class after winning the Russell Bowes Memorial Mares’ Handicap Hurdle under Dominic Elsworth.
Winning trainer Emma Lavelle said: “She’ll go back into Graded class and is a dream mare to have.
“I meant to go chasing but she’s not easy to get fit and I’ve rather run out of time. We’ll probably take on Quevega again at Cheltenham and she’d love it if the ground came up soft as it plays to her strengths.”
Lively Baron (15-8 favourite) took the concluding Sportingbet London National for trainer Donald McCain and jockey Richard Johnson.