Aintree: Sprinter Sacre wins the Melling Chase

Tackling two and a half miles for the first time over the larger obstacles, he was a 1-3 favourite to beat a top-class field

A step up in distance made little difference to Sprinter Sacre as he turned in another breathtaking performance in the John Smith's Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson's incredibly talented seven-year-old had stretched his unbeaten record over fences to eight with an imperious display in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but was stepping into the unknown on Merseyside.

Tackling two and a half miles for the first time over the larger obstacles, he was a 1-3 favourite to beat a top-class field including Ryanair Chase winner Cue Card, Irish raider Flemenstar and his own stable companion Finian's Rainbow, winner of this race and the Champion Chase last season.

With Cue Card and Flemenstar disputing the lead throughout, the pace gradually increased and all four of the main protagonists turned in some brilliant leaps heading down the back straight.

Sprinter Sacre was travelling and jumping with his usual extravagance in behind and once unleashed by Barry Geraghty, the writing was on the wall for his opponents.

Cue Card admirably stuck to his task, but Sprinter Sacre brushed him aside and safely negotiating the final fence to score by four and a half lengths without coming off the bridle.

Flemenstar was a long way back in third, with Finian's Rainbow, who was sent to the front by Tony McCoy leaving the back straight, fading into fourth.

Geraghty said: "He was brilliant. I suppose I could have done with going a little bit quicker.

"He travelled a bit too well and I had to take him back a few times to make use of his jumping. Because of the distance I didn't want to get to the front too soon.

"He was more relaxed than at Cheltenham, but we didn't go quick. He tanked a little. He was very manageable, he wasn't wanting to do anything silly like tear off with me. He was very co-operative and a real gentleman.

"When you let him loose like at the second-last he does it too easily.

"The two and a half miles didn't make any difference. He has plenty of pace and is very versatile."

Henderson said: "He's just a natural athlete. He's got a huge amount of ability and knows how to use it.

"I don't think anybody has taught him about jumping. It is sheer natural talent and it's good to watch when it's over.

"As Barry says that is probably as far as he wants to go. He gets two and a half but he doesn't need any more. It gives him options."

Henderson was not completely ruling out a quick return at Punchestown on April 23, adding: "I'm not ruling it in or out, I sort of think I'd like to show him to the people in Ireland one day.

"He's not had hard races has he. Let's see how he comes out of this."

PA

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