When it comes to the Cheltenham Festival, Sprinter Sacre has to be one of the first horses which springs to mind. With twelve major wins under his belt, he’s simply without question one of the greatest jump horses of the last decade.
It was clear for all to see that trainer Nicky Henderson had a special horse when Sprinter Sacre bolted up on only his third ever hurdle race at Ascot in 2010. It was almost decided there and then that he would be heading to the Cheltenham Festival that season, where he was entered into the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Despite all the hype, a major blunder three furlongs out meant that Sprinter Sacre could only manage third place. However, this was an early sign he would have an illustrious career.
Two years on, having won the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury under Barry Geraghty, Nicky Henderson entered his superstar into the Arkle Challenge Trophy, facing the likes of Al Ferof, Menorah and Cue Card.
No mistakes were made on this occasion and the race was never in doubt, with Sprinter Sacre leaving Cue Card seven lengths behind, although this could have been at least 20 if it wasn’t for Geraghty deciding to virtually crawl over the finish line.
Sprinter Sacre was branded as “The Special One” after the race by his jockey, who had simply stunned the Cheltenham crowd on his return to the track after a two-year absence.
Nicky Henderson’s horse continued to prove unbeatable throughout the 2012/2013 campaign, storming to success in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and the Celebration Chase.
A return to Cheltenham for a third time, saw Sprinter Sacre collect the Queen Mother Champion Chase title at odds of just 1-4, the shortest a horse had ever been at the Festival since Sir Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup for England.
Cue Card must have been sick of the sight of Sprinter Sacre, having to settle for second once more when Henderson’s superstar hosed up in the John Smith’s Melling Chase at the Grand National Festival, by almost five lengths. This was hardly surprising to the bookmakers, who had sent off Henderson’s horse as the 1-3 favourite.
Sprinter Sacre was seeking a hat-trick of victories when heading to his fourth visit to Cheltenham the following season but it wasn’t to be for the heavily backed favourite. He looked to protect his title in the Queen Mother Champion Chase but a back injury saw him fade away, allowing Dodging Bullets to steal his glory.
Yet in his true, aggressive, fighting spirit, Sprinter Sacre’s last visit to the Festival was to be a fairy-tale ending. Despite odds of 5-1, the then ten-year-old turned over the Irish-trained favourite in Un de Sceaux to land his second Queen Mother Champion Chase.
After the race, his trainer said: “He’s just been so feisty and aggressive all season. I’ve been looking at him every night for the last three weeks and I just knew that it was still there. It’s just talent, isn’t it?”
His last ever race was back at Sandown Park in the Celebration Chase, where he challenged Un de Sceaux once more and with Nico de Boinville on board, there was only going to be one outcome. Sprinter Sacre devoured the field, finishing fifteen lengths clear of his nearest rival, bowing out still very much at the top of his game.
On November 13th 2016, it was with regret that Nicky Henderson announced Sprinter Sacre’s retirement due to a leg tendon injury he had sustained.
“The horse of an absolute lifetime” were the famous words reiterated by Sprinter Sacre’s trainer upon the announcement. His achievements will go down in racing history for years to come.