Sprinter Sacre has been cut from 16/1 to 4/1 for the 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase by most bookmakers after bouncing back to form with a convincing 14-length victory in Cheltenham’s Shloer Chase on Sunday.
After a mesmerising run of 10 races without defeat over fences ended in the 2013 renewal of Kempton’s Desert Orchid Chase, he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and was out of action for 13 months, which included a wind operation.
Despite finishing behind Dodging Bullets on his return to action at Ascot in January and then being pulled up in the Champion Chase, followed by another second place at Sandown in April, Nicky Henderson persevered – and this win was a just reward.
It should be noted that race conditions for the Shloer (winners since last September penalised, depending on the class of race won), were favourable to Sprinter Sacre and Somersby – with neither having won last season.
In fact, it was amazing to see most of the field giving weight to Sprinter Sacre – in his pomp one of the highest rated steeplechasers of all-time.
So it perhaps should have been no surprise to see those two high class horses, both getting weight from the rest of the field, finish first and second in testing conditions.
Nonetheless, the nature of Sprinter Sacre’s win (trouncing Somersby who was just 1¼ lengths second to Dodging Bullets in this year’s Champion Chase – and also runner-up in 2014), confirmed that he is a genuine contender for the 2016 renewal.
Nicky Henderson certainly believes there is more to come:
“He just looks so different. His whole demeanour is completely different and he’s like himself again. Getting weight off those horses doesn’t tell you he is where he was two and a half years ago but it’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s pretty emotional stuff because it’s been a long time in the wilderness. The doubters were there to say, how long do you go on doing this? How long do we go on believing?”
Un De Sceaux
Of course, there is the far from insignificant obstacle of 2015 Arkle Chase winner, Un De Sceaux, ready to spoil the fairytale.
Unbeaten in completed starts (just a fall on his chasing debut last November at Thurles blotting the copybook), the Willie Mullins-trained runner is still the one to beat in the eyes of the bookies, at best odds of 13/8 with Coral.
Last season’s winner Dodging Bullets is third in the market at 7/1 with Paddy Power.
Certainly, the prospect of Un De Sceaux and a back-to-his-best Sprinter Sacre storming up the Cheltenham hill in March is a mouth-watering one.
Meanwhile, just as one superstar who used to boast an unbeaten record of 10 wins in chases returned to the winners enclosure on Sunday at Cheltenham, another lost his unblemished record over at Punchestown.
Faugheen ‘the Machine’, was the 1/6 favourite in the Morgiana Hurdle, but found stablemate Nichols Canyon too good, despite Willie Mullins saying the runner-up had left Nichols Canyon “for dead” when they worked together on Tuesday.
As a result, he has drifted from 11/10 to best odds of 15/8 with Paddy Power to win a second Champion Hurdle, while Nichols Canyon is now the 6/1 second-favourite.