Sprinter Sacre embraced by Cheltenham on emotional day for Nicky Henderson

Mon 14 Nov 2016

Sprinter Sacre was paraded in front of an adoring crowd at Cheltenham on Sunday - just two hours after his trainer Nicky Henderson announced the retirement of the dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero.

Five of Sprinter Sacre's victories came at the home of steeplechasing and it was rather poignant that exactly 12 months after his win in the Shloer Chase on this card that the 10-year-old returned to be given a fitting farewell from the track.

His racing days have been ended by a tendon injury as he was being prepared for next month's Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

Sprinter Sacre won 18 of his 24 starts and amassed £1,136,000 in prize-money.

In between his two Champion Chase victories, he was plagued with problems and was sidelined from December 2013 to January 2015 with a fibrillating heart.

Henderson said: "It's been a great part of our lives and an extraordinary journey.

"The sad thing is he has been doing everything right. We had three weeks before the Tingle Creek, we were going to work him on Saturday then take him to Newbury on Tuesday.

"He had that great charisma about him. One of the greatest days we had is when we took him to Ireland, which we always promised we would do.

"We were just the curators. He really was a treasure."

Joining the Henderson stable from France, Sprinter Sacre made a winning debut in an Ascot bumper in February 2010 and went novice hurdling the following campaign.

After winning two of his first three starts, he was then third in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March 2011.

It was as a chaser that he really made his mark, though. He created a big impression in his novice season which saw him defeat Cue Card in the Arkle Trophy in 2012.

He went on to win his first 10 races over fences, including the Champion Chase at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, b ut his successful streak came to an abrupt halt when he was pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

He made a full recovery and returned to action in January 2015 when he was second to Dodging Bullets in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

Sprinter Sacre last season achieved what has been called "the impossible dream" when he reclaimed his two-mile crown with a convincing defeat of Un De Sceaux at the Festival in March.

He wound up the campaign with a similarly authoritative victory in the Celebration Chase at Sandown in April in what turned out to be his swansong.

Henderson added: "What happened last year was something that will never be repeated in my lifetime.

"We've been very lucky over the years and there was probably no bigger day than this day last year when he won the Shloer Chase.

"It wasn't his finest hour as he improved all year. But this day last year was when it really had to happen. We knew if that didn't work that day we would have had to say, 'No more'.

"That crowd that November afternoon was a March crowd. It was the most fantastic day. He loves it and adores the whole thing."

Barry Geraghty rode Sprinter Sacre 17 times, winning on 13 occasions, and said his old ally was "just unbelievable".

The jockey said; "He's something special and he is to be celebrated. I've never sat on a horse over fences like him - he was electric.

"The first day he won here (in the 2012 Arkle), just to see him sail away on the way to the last, I've never seen that before. He was just unbelievable."

Sir Anthony McCoy r ode Sprinter Sacre just the once, when the partnership finished third in the Supreme, and was left in awe of the great horse.

He said: "Sprinter Sacre was a phenomenal horse. He put up some of the best two-mile performances we've seen.

"It's very hard to find horses that capture the imagination like he did. He had it all, the look, the swagger, the whole package.

"He was just better than all the rest of them. He just found things easy. He was such a nimble jumper for a big horse. He had a very high cruising speed and was the proper Ferrari that could jump.

"There are only a very few horses that catch the imagination and people outside of racing definitely knew Sprinter Sacre because he was such a dominant horse in his field.

"He is a big loss for the trainer and owner, for sure, but he is retiring safely. The other thing that deserves to be mentioned is that Nicky Henderson has done a terrific job to get him back last year."

However, the day turned into one of despair for the Seven Barrows team when just minutes after Sprinter Sacre paraded, the Henderson stable lost a star in Simonsig. The 10-year-old was put down after breaking a leg following a fall at the third fence in the Shloer Chase.

"It (Sprinter Sacre's retirement) was not a funeral, but a celebration of life, but now we've got the funeral and the tears all of a sudden go the other way," said Henderson.

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