The 10-year-old gelding, who took the race in 2013, was a popular winner of the feature race of the day. The crowd were thrilled, bursting into peals of “three cheers for Sprinter” around the winners’ enclosure.
Ridden by last year’s Gold Cup-winning jockey Nico De Boinville, the horse’s regular work rider, the pair recorded a 3 1/2 length victory in the two mile chase.
“I’m just speechless,” said Nico. “He is not far off the Sprinter from 2013. He put in a sensational schooling round the other day – horses were setting off five lengths behind and finishing 15 lengths behind. Half of the time it is just keeping a lid on him. I am very grateful to the Guvnor [Nicky Henderson] – he has brought me and the horse along steadily.”
During the race, Henry De Bromhead’s Special Tiara led from the front, but faded into third behind 4-6 favourite Un De Sceaux and Sprinter Sacre.
At the top of the hill it was a battle between the Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux and the 2013 winner. But Sprinter Sacre jumped to the front two from home and pulled clear to win.
Last year’s Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets never really got into contention, finishing seventh.
“I thought he [Un De Sceaux] had got away, but coming down the hill I asked Sprinter to go and he went through a gap and I wanted to see what Un De Sceaux really had. When Sprinter Sacre gets up to another horse’s girth he really steps up again through the gears and takes the sting out of them and that is what he did again today,” added Nico.
“When you win these big races you have to enjoy them and that has definitely been Sprinter’s greatest achievement in his whole career today.”
The win was a 55th Festival victory for trainer Nicky Henderson. He added: “Dreams do actually happen, they come alive. Sprinter’s been a very special horse – we had those two golden years when he was unbeatable. He had to be as good as he ever was to do that today.”
Sprinter Sacre was last seen on a racecourse when he came out in front in a battle with Sire De Grugy at Kempton in December, in a thrilling Desert Orchid Chase.
Both horses put in gutsy performances but it was Sprinter Sacre who took the win, by three quarters of a length.
Some fans thought that Sprinter Sacre would never return to his best after he was pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase in 2013, suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
The condition corrected itself, and his return to the track has been carefully documented.
“We were put under no pressure and no-one called for his retirement,” said Nicky. “That helped the horse and it helped us get through it so we are very thankful to everyone. This horse knows he is good and what it is like to be at the top and I know he enjoys all of this.
“The last three weeks he has thrived. He did one lovely bit of work and then when he schooled two weeks ago he was just like he used to be – suddenly he was jumping in front of us like he used to. We were positive, we were not confident but optimistic. The last week has been really good, he did not need a racecourse gallop and he has looked really well. We have not done much with him in the last 10 days and we did not want him to peak too soon.
“We thought about retirement, but [owner] Caroline Mould said let me know what you think. He came in this year and looked great, started in a better way and has held it together. He was not like that last year. He has been a happy horse all year. You do think he will not ever get back to his best.
“The horse is enjoying racing again and that is what it is all about. He has that showmanship, is a good looking horse and is an exceptionally talented horse.”
- Sprinter Sacre delights fans at Kempton
- Balthazar King aiming at cross-country glory
- Lucinda Green rides Sprinter Sacre *VIDEO*
The fairytale wasn’t to be for Balthazar King though, who was returning to the track after sustaining rib injuries in a fall in the 2015 Grand National.
Despite good preparation and promising schooling at Pontispool ahead of the cross-country race the gelding fell, but was unhurt. The race was won by Any Currency, ridden by Aidan Coleman.
It was also a day of celebration for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies who recorded a double, with Blaklion in the RSA Chase and Ballyandy in the Champion Bumper.