If the value of a race could be measured in smiles, the 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase would be the richest race in history.
When the legendary Kauto Star began his well-earned retirement in 2012, the void he left behind seemed impossible to fill. But the racing Gods were ahead of us. They’d anticipated and answered our prayers with 16.3 hands of devilishly handsome gelding. The name? Sacre. Sprinter Sacre.
He was unbeatable, effortlessly thrashing his opponents with ease and style, earning himself the nickname ‘The Black Aeroplane’. Ending the 2012/2013 season with ten consecutive victories, his British Horseracing Authority rating was 188 – the second highest in Anglo-Irish Jumps Classification history.
Understandably impatient for his reappearance, his fans couldn’t wait for the 2013/2014 season to begin. His first race was at Kempton on 27 December, and the racing community eagerly anticipated the superstar’s return.
Victory was a certainty; it was simply a case of how far the winning distance would be. But after tracking the leaders and jumping the seventh fence, he was pulled up suddenly by jockey Barry Geraghty. Something was amiss.
Diagnosed with an irregular heart beat, his trainer, Nicky Henderson, announced Sprinter Sacre would miss the rest of the season. His fans were stunned. Although it wasn’t a career-ending problem, the momentum of his winning form had been stopped in its tracks and there were concerns regarding the likelihood of regaining his previous superiority.
Ever optimistic for a come-back, the fans applauded his return to the track in January 2015. Would ‘The Black Aeroplane’ be back to his best? It seemed not. Although notching up two second places before the end of the season, a good result for most horses, he was not the Sprinter Sacre of old.
Then the tide began to turn. Two years after being stopped by his heart condition, he returned for the 2015/2016 season partnered by his long time work rider, Nico de Boinville, delighting us with victories at Kempton and Cheltenham. His fans dared to believe that a complete resurrection of this dominant force could yet be possible. After all, racing is all about dreams.
Lining up for The Queen Mother Champion Chase at this year’s Cheltenham festival, he faced the ultimate test of speed and agility. Racing near the front of the pack, hopes were high that this was going to be one of those rare magical moments. With three jumps to go, it was time for Nico to ask the question. It was answered.
Taking up the running with two jumps remaining a roar erupted from the crowd. As ‘The Black Aeroplane’ took off up the runway of the Cheltenham hill, it turned into a supersonic boom which threatened to blow the roof from the grandstand. Nicky Henderson could be seen mouthing the words our hearts already knew, but our heads took a moment to believe.
‘He’s back. He’s back’.
Ten years young, with yet another grade 1 victory in the bag, Sprinter Sacre swaggered into the parade ring and surveyed the tiers of fans eager to welcome their returning hero. The impossible dream had come true. An incredible training performance. An incredible horse.
We don’t know when or where his next race will be, but we hope he’s cleared for take off again soon.
Video: Youtube – jameswasanders