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Cheltenham Icons: A look at Sprinter Sacre's career

Sprinter Sacre was amongst the most exciting two-mile chasers of his generation and a horse that stunned the sport by rising off the canvas to grab one last glorious Cheltenham Festival win.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, Sprinter Sacre was an exciting, if not quite world-beating, novice hurdler but it was over fences that The Black Aeroplane would truly come to the fore.

He ended his career unbeaten over fences at Cheltenham, landing an Arkle and two Queen Mother Champion Chases in the Cotswolds.

Horse Racing

Early form merely hints at underlying talent

A winner of both bumpers at Ascot and Ayr in the spring of 2010, Sprinter Sacre would enjoy a four-race sequence as a novice hurdler the following season.

He won twice at Ffos Las and Ascot in February 2011 and hit the podium in Al Ferof's Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham that spring. 

In that race, he wasn't even the Henderson first string, as Barry Geraghty preferred runner-up Spirit Son, with AP McCoy on board as Sprinter Sacre split that rival and Cue Card behind impressive winner Al Ferof.

The oft-used phrase 'anything he does over hurdles is a bonus' certainly rung true with Sprinter Sacre, with his Seven Barrows trainer opting to put him away for the summer after Cheltenham.

Arkle glory awaits imperious chaser

Doncaster in December 2011 was the starting point for Sprinter Sacre's chasing career and it was Davis Bass in the plate, claiming 3lb to boot, as they put five rivals to the sword on Town Moor.

From there to Kempton at Christmas and the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase. Peddlers Cross actually started favourite for that Grade 2, but Geraghty and Sprinter Sacre took up the running early on and cruised around, winning by 16-lengths without being fully extended.

Henderson picked the Game Spirit at Newbury as a final prep and another smooth success followed as Sprinter Sacre headed for Cheltenham the red-hot Arkle favourite.

Cue Card and Menorah followed him home at wide margins, with Al Ferof behind in fourth, as Sprinter Sacre delivered on the hype in the Cotswolds before a majestic Grade 1 win at Aintree in April 2012 left him a perfect 5-5 over fences.

Tour de force from the Black Aeroplane

By late 2012, Sprinter Sacre was the doyen of the two-mile chasing division. He was 4/11fav in his comeback in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and scarcely came off the bridle on his first start in open Grade 1 company.

A Clarence House win at Cheltenham followed on Trials Day in January and, come March, he dismantled the likes of former winner Sizing Europe in the Queen Mother Champion Chase to complete his ascent to the top.

A Melling Chase win over Cue Card showed he could handle two-and-a-half-miles with aplomb and, finally, he made the trip over to Punchestown for their Champion Chase to showcase his immense talents to an adoring Irish public as he ended that season still unbeaten as a chaser. 

The unthinkable at Kempton 

However, Christmas 2013 brought with it an unerring shock for Henderson, Geraghty and Sprinter Sacre's army of fans. 

He was a 2/9fav for the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton but before they reached halfway trouble was brewing as Geraghty looked ill at ease. The rider wasted little time in pulling Sprinter Sacre up as their unbeaten record suddenly went up in smoke.

Henderson soon confirmed Sprinter Sacre was suffering from an irregular heartbeat after his star two-miler underwent tests in Newmarket in the following days.

He was to go on the easy list and would not be sighted on the racetrack for 386 days.

A season of toil hints at the end

When he did return, it appeared as though his health woes had left an indelible mark.

The Clarence House at Ascot saw him finish second to Dodging Bullets and that same Paul Nicholls-trained inmate would land the 2015 Queen Mother Champion Chase as Sprinter Sacre (the 9/4fav) was pulled up before the last when beaten.

A month later, Henderson got Sprinter Sacre to Sandown for the bet365 Celebration Chase but this time it was Henry de Bromhead's always-game frontrunner, Special Tiara, that made him settle for second best.

From the highs of 2013 to this, two years on, as many pondered if retirement was the best option for the grounded Black Aeroplane.

Lift off once more in glorious finale

One man that never doubted Sprinter Sacre was Henderson, the trainer remaining adamant that the huge talent still lay within.

By November 2015, Henderson was quite possibly alone in that thinking, bar those closest to him.

The Shloer Chase at Cheltenham was probably an all-or-nothing moment as Sprinter Sacre needed to prove his trainer's theory and fast.

He did, winning that Grade 2 by 14-lengths and going on to Kempton at Christmas to floor former Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy in the Desert Orchid.

After a short respite, it was back to Cheltenham and the Champion Chase where the field was headed by Un De Sceaux for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.

They hit the front after four out but Sprinter Sacre came out after them and a deafening Cheltenham roar rang out when he got in front at the penultimate jump. 

He was six-lengths clear the last and while Un De Sceaux rallied, the glory was Sprinter Sacre's and there was hardly a dry eye in the Cotswolds. 

He underpinned that win by beating Un Des Sceaux by 15-lengths in the Celebration Chase at Sandown and retired off the back of that four-race winning season having suffered a minor tendon strain.

He won 14 of 18 races, was regarded as one of the greatest two-milers of all time and his trainer confirmed upon retirement that Sprinter Sacre was "the horse of an absolute lifetime".

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