Henderson bullish on Sprinter Sacre’s hopes

IT is a measure of Sprinter Sacre’s scintillating class that he may not even have to return to his brilliant best to regain his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase crowd.

Trainer Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre.

That’s the verdict of top trainer Nicky Henderson who has been increasingly bullish about the prospects of his stable star ahead of Cheltenham’s day of reckoning.

This is despite the previously invincible Sprinter Sacre lacking fluency when second to dual Grade One winner Dodging Bullets, one of today’s main rivals, in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot after a 13-month lay-off following treatment for a defibrillating heart.

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Sprinter Sacre has not since landing consecutive races at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown festivals in the spring of 2013, and will also have to beat the defending champion Sire De Gurgy, who returned to winning ways at Chepstow last month.

“Sprinter Sacre is not the same as two years ago, but he is pretty good,” said Henderson. “I can honestly say we were satisfied with his run at Ascot, although it didn’t please everybody.

“When he was at his best he was unbeatable. We have not got exactly the same horse, but he is in knocking distance of it. Nico (de Boinville) who rides him every day is optimistic. He is in seriously good shape and doing everything we have remotely asked of him without killing him.

“He travelled like the best horse in the race at Ascot and he just got tired at the end.”

Sire De Grugy has also had his troubles since powering to victory 12 months ago, but looked as good as ever when bolting up in a Chepstow handicap last month, just two weeks after unseating his rider on his return at Newbury.

His trainer Gary Moore can see no reason why his stable star cannot improve again if the pace is competitive. “The faster they go, the better,” he said.

Champagne Fever is a two-times Festival winner for Willie Mullins but suffered a surprise defeat in last year’s Arkle Trophy, while Northern hopes rest with Simply Ned.

He is trained by Nicky Richards, whose late father Gordon sent out One Man to triumph in 1998.

“The drier the ground the better for my lad and full credit to him because the ground he ran on at Cheltenham and Leopardstown was against him,” said Richards. “He is a different horse on good ground.”