SPRINTER SACRE and Sire De Grugy served up a Christmas cracker in the Desert Orchid Chase with the emphatic 2013 Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre showing battling qualities to match his undoubted class to grind out a narrow win.
With Cheltenham Festival favourite Un De Sceaux hitting the deck on his return to action at Leopardstown earlier in the day, the door was ajar for one of the Desert Orchid contenders to stake a claim for the Betway Champion Chase title.While the performance may have been short of Sprinter Sacre’simperious best, for a horse whose career was almost over after he pulled up in this race two years ago suffering with a fibrillating heart, there were many positives to take as he put it all on the line to overhaul the equally tough 2014 Champion Chase winner from the last.
However, while Sire De Grugy was trimmed to 7-1 (from 12) to regain the crown with Paddy Power, the same firm eased Sprinter Sacre to 7-2 (from 3) to repeat his 2013 heroics come March, with Un De Sceaux a top-priced 7-4 favourite.
‘Blessed he’s here in one piece’
“It was a very gutsy performance,” was winning rider Nico de Boinville’s initial reaction. “Sire De Grugy pushed us all the way. We were spot on at the last and Jamie Moore has just missed it. It was a sensational performance from a great horse.”
He added: “I’d say we were a bit below that performance at Cheltenham [last time] but he showed he has heart as well as class. Everyday this horse runs and puts up good performances like that you almost feel blessed he’s here in one piece and winning races.”
All to play for at the last
With Sire De Grugy’s connections mindful that conditions may have been more in Sprinter Sacre’s favour than their own, rider Jamie Moore was determined to make it a true test and pushed on following a powerful jump six out.
De Boinville was alive to the tactic and brought Sprinter Sacre to the outside and was almost on terms after the fifth from home with Vibrato Valtat squeezing up the inner as the principles put their heads down and headed for home.
Sprinter Sacre looked to be going best but Sire De Grugy kept finding for Moore and between the third and second-last it looked as though he might be about to break his rival’s resolve.
However, while Sire De Grugy was in tight at the last, Sprinter Sacre came up big for De Boinville and, with momentum on his side, he eased ahead on the run to the line for a gutsy win.
‘Another step forward’
“I got the feeling two miles around here is sharp enough for him,” said winning trainer Nicky Henderson. “He couldn’t sweep past them like he can on a stiffer track. He has the ability to gallop relentlessly at a good pace and this track probably just caught him out a little. I thought the other horse was getting the best of things but he came back and fought.
“There was that concern about coming back to Kempton and would he remember the experience he had here. You would have to say his heart was in it today. It’s another step forward, a different step this time.
“He is just as good fresh as he is very fit so I would be maybe leaning not to run again before Cheltenham.”
Ascot next for Sire De Grugy
Although disappointed to have been beaten in a close finish, the Sire De Grugy team took defeat on the chin and are looking towards Ascot in January and the Clarence House Chase next.
“I’m gutted – it’s as simple as that,” said Jamie Moore. “The race went well, and although the mistake at the last didn’t help, we were beaten fair and square.”
Trainer Gary Moore added: “I’ve no excuses, although as I said before we would have preferred the ground to have been softer. If he had jumped the last better he might have made a race of it, but he was beaten three-quarters of a length. I was hoping he might get back up, but all respect to Sprinter Sacre, and also to Nicky Henderson for getting him back.
“At least it bodes well for the Clarence House at Ascot, and maybe Sprinter Sacre won’t be there. I’m looking forward to it.”