A YEAR after winning his steeplechasing debut in scintillating style at Doncaster, three-times champion jockey Richard Dunwoody says “the best is still to come” from Sprinter Sacre who is odds-on favourite for next year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Dunwoody believes Nicky Henderson’s star can dominate the two-mile chasing for several seasons and perhaps match the feat of the Yorkshire-trained Badsworth Boy who won three successive renewals of the race in the 1980s.
Like David Bass who rode Sprinter Sacre to victory on Town Moor, Dunwoody was captivated by Sprinter Sacre’s success in the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last Saturday and how he reeled in the top-class runaway leader Sanctuaire with effortless ease.
“He’s got better with every race over fences. Based on the way he scooted-up at Sandown, then I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of him – the Champion Chase now looks his to lose,” says Dunwoody, who still laments never winning this contest in his distinguished career.
“I’ve certainly not seen a better two-mile chaser for some time and at just six-years-old, and not a lot else coming through the ranks, then he can dominate this division for a good while. He’s now six from six over the bigger obstacles. The way he disposed of Sanctuaire, a horse that was meant to be rated just 3lbs inferior to him, was exciting to say the least.”
Bass concurs. He was only booked for the ride in the six-runner Atteys Solicitors Novices’ Chase because Henderson’s stable jockey Barry Geraghty was at Cheltenham and Malton-born Andrew Tinkler was on the injury sidelines.
When the 24-year-old sat on Sprinter Sacre for the first time just four days before the horse’s long-awaited chase debut, he knew he was going to enjoy the ride of a lifetime. “He was just awesome. It all came so easily, he was a natural.”
Nevertheless the pressure was on as the field headed to the start in front of the stands. Sprinter Sacre, possibly the best horse ever trained by the record-breaking Henderson, had not raced since the previous March when chasing home the top-class Al Ferof – now a leading King George VI Chase contender – in the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham Bass, still a three-pound claimer at the time because of his inexperience, wanted to keep it simple. “I tried to get a lead for as long as I could,” he said.
Yet Sprinter Sacre was so good that he was leading by the fifth – before a sensational jump at the top of Rose Hill effectively sealed the contest. “I knew he would be a bit keen and a bit gassy, but his jumping was so good. He took a length out of every horse at each fence,” explained the rider.
The form book shows that Sprinter Sacre won by 24 lengths from Jake Greenall on Mick Easterby’s Lightening Rod who chased the victor in vain. There were a further 35 lengths to subsequent Catterick winner Altan Khan with the Keith Mercer-ridden King’s Counsel further adrift in fourth.
Yet Altan Khan’s jockey Dougie Costello remembers being called into the stewards room, along with Greenall and Mercer, to explain why they didn’t try hard enough. He was bemused. “I’ve never been so fast from the moment we jumped off, certainly over the first fences,” he said.
“David, he did a great job. He gave his boy a squeeze at the top of the hill and a gazelle would not have got there. He was outside the wing and they landed running. We just couldn’t keep up.
“There was Sprinter Sacre and the rest. I watched the Tingle Creek and the horse that finished third, Sanctuaire, is a fair tool. The difference is the great horses, they’re so quick in the air and get away from their fences.”
Bass recalls being greeted by Henderson’s assistant Ben Pauling after pulling the horse up – no mean feat. “I was smiling. Ben said ‘I’ve never seen you smile like this’. I’m not one for getting excited but I was pleased with myself that day,” said the rider who admits that his reputation would have taken a dent if he had come to grief.
Though in his fourth year at the Henderson yard, Bass is realistic enough to accept that Geraghty will not give up the ride unless he is injured.
Yet Bass is still excited when he sees Sprinter Sacre on the gallops where he is likened to an aeroplane. The horse will have one more outing before the Champion Chase – and the biggest obstacle is the superstar’s exuberance. “I don’t think I will ride a better jumper, probably not a better horse. He’s a freak. If he gets there in one piece, he’s a certainty for the Queen Mother,” said the jockey.