I remember reading somewhere that “farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse.” The reason being that “solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence.” For anyone who took the 4/6 about Sprinter Sacre close to the off of the Clarence House on Saturday, the result must have been pretty shattering.
The likelihood is that although still possibly the best 2 mile chaser around, the Black Aeroplane isn’t the flying machine he was. Still exceptional by most standards but not the 190-odd rated invincible of 2 mile chasing. Henderson’s is a yard more than most where the betting tells the story, and an SP of 4/6 surely reckons that as the trainer has since admitted, Sprinter Sacre was about 90% fit. Ring rusty, but fit.
It is near certain then that the 9yo won’t scale the peaks he did in the past, but where does that leave him? Supporters will have every reason to believe that he can turn around the 3l deficit with Dodging Bullets come Cheltenham in March having travelled all over that rival for most of the way here. However that in itself might be the worry. It is slightly disconcerting how much seemed to go exactly to plan on Saturday yet Sprinter Sacre still didn’t win.
The pacemaker Somersby was easily accounted for. He was running all over Dodging Bullets three furlongs out but upsides before the last, that rival simply powered away from him to win by three lengths. Henderson said post-race that Sprinter Sacre ‘didn’t blow up’ but just ‘got tired.’ This corner would like to know the difference. Sprinter Sacre was never a horse that appeared to have to particularly extend himself to win. With diminished ability the question might come up as to what he is like in a battle. Saturday didn’t bode well for that and one can see why pundits like Nick Mordin advocate treating horses who have suffered serious injury as ‘new horses’ for betting purposes.
The Champion Chase picture would suggest that Dodging Bullets has improved around 10-15 lbs from last year while Sprinter Sacre has likely regressed by at least that amount from peak. The thus far absentee champion Sire De Grugy is likely somewhere in between them. Who would you favour?
Well you have to side with the bit of class don’t you and for all the jibber above about what Sprinter Sacre mightn’t be able to do anymore, you could see Henderson coaxing that bit more out of him to get the job done come Cheltenham time with a price of 7/2 probably underestimating his chances. He will certainly be shorter on the day. In a way, his return was only disappointing relative to what he once was and there was more than a sense of him racing his own shadow as well as the rest of the field on Saturday.
Maybe his biggest challenger might yet come in the form of Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever whose quick-jumping, scalded cat routine is now surely best suited to 2 mile chasing. Jockey Ruby Walsh still maintains that we are yet to see the best of him on the course.