Sprinter Sacre enhances reputation at Cheltenham
CHELTENHAM, England (AP) - Sprinter Sacre enhanced his reputation as one of Britain's top horses by winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase by 19 lengths at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday, securing his eighth victory in a row over fences.
Sent off as the 1-4 favorite, Sprinter Sacre overwhelmed a quality field in the marquee race of the festival's second day to earn his owners a winner's check of more than 200,000 pounds ($300,000).
"It does leave you speechless,'' trainer Nicky Henderson said. "Sprinter Sacre is scary. He has that aura about him and is totally and utterly unique.''
The 7-year-old horse continued his dominance in steeplechasing, with victories in all of his races coming by at least six lengths and by a combined 114 lengths.
In Britain, Sprinter Sacre is the latest star after the retirements last year of Frankel in flat-racing and Kauto Star in jump-racing.
"He's a beautiful horse to ride - I've never ridden one as natural to jump,'' jockey Barry Geraghty said. "I've ridden some brilliant horses over the years, but the ease and the grace that he does it with sets him apart.''
The victory caused havoc for Coral, Britain's third biggest bookmaker, which said it paid out more than 1 million pounds after offering generous odds on Sprinter Sacre winning as a special incentive to attract new customers. Its own website crashed right after Sprinter Sacre won, preventing customers betting on the following three races. That included the race the bookmaker was sponsoring, the Coral Cup.
It was another good day for trainer Willie Mullins, who took his haul of victories at this year's festival to five with wins for Back in Focus (9-4 favorite) in the National Hunt Chase and then 25-1 shot Briar Hill in the day-ending Champion Bumper.
Ruby Walsh rode Briar Hill and is atop the jockey standings with four wins.
However, nothing could top the run from Sprinter Sacre, nicknamed the "Long Dark Aeroplane.'' He took the lead as he jumped the third-to-last fence and powered clear of Sizing Europe, the winner of the race in 2011, with a turn of speed that revived memories of the unbeaten Frankel in his prime.
Geraghty was up off his saddle and taking in the cheers of the crowd as he crossed the line.
"We have been beaten by a phenomenon,'' said Henry de Bromhead, the trainer of Sizing Europe. "We had a go, but came off second best.''