Cheltenham Festival: All eyes trained on Sprinter Sacre - 'the horse of a lifetime'

The stunning, record-breaker is set to be crowned the best in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Even the horse knows he's good

In one of sport's great natural arenas, before the matchless backdrop of the last rugged outpost of the Cotswolds, Cleeve Hill, there will this week be presented unscripted theatre in all its genres.

No emotion will remain untapped at Cheltenham, where 27 contests over four days will stretch hearts and minds for better and occasionally for worse. The prime sentiment will surely be excitement and that, too, can present in a myriad forms. A winning bet, a close finish. But there is nothing to beat the visceral thrill of seeing a horse who is not merely a champion, but one out of the ordinary.

Those who followed Frankel's effortless, imperious athletic superiority will testify to that. And for the jumping faithful, Sprinter Sacre is another of the stripe. The seven-year-old will start at long odds-on for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the two-milers' crown, on Wednesday, but a solo tour de force by an unbackable favourite can touch the soul as much as a dogged head-to-head to the line.

Sprinter Sacre is the highest-rated chaser in training, has won all his seven outings over fences by an aggregate 95 lengths, has set three course records in his past six races and, to the relief of the marketeers, has filled the Festival superstar void left by the retired Kauto Star and the sidelined Big Buck's.

The man with the care and management of such a precious talent is Nicky Henderson, based on the Berkshire Downs at Seven Barrows. And though the responsibility brings a daily rollercoaster of worry and fulfilment, none can bow to the trainer in admiration of the horse. "He is just stunning," he said. "He is the model racehorse, with size and scope. And he is a dreadful show-off. He knows he's good, he knows he's good looking and he grows in stature as he struts and swanks in front of the crowd.

"He's much younger, of course, and not so skinny, but if he was a person he'd probably be the Mick Jagger I saw at the O2 Arena last year. So athletic, with such a swagger and presence. Definitely the wow factor."

The dark-brown gelding was bred in central France by farmer Christophe Masle. His very existence was something of an accident; the stallion that Masle had picked as a mate for his mare Fatima became indisposed and she had to be switched to an unproven horse called Network, with such serendipitous results.

Henderson is honest enough to admit that the first time he saw Sprinter Sacre he did not particularly notice him, even though the horse had taken first prize as a foal at the annual show and trade fair for young potential steeplechasers in the Nièvre region.

"He was there, and I was there," he said, "so I must have seen him, though he clearly did not register."

Sprinter Sacre eventually found his way to England as part of a £300,000 job lot of 20 unbroken youngsters sourced by agent David Minton for the 72-year-old property millionaire Raymond Mould and his wife Caroline, long-time patrons at Seven Barrows. "Then," added Henderson, "he really did stand out from the bunch. The second time he ran, I realised that we just might have a bit of a machine. And the first time we schooled him over fences he was so electric he was frightening."

Sprinter Sacre's progress through his novice chasing season included a contemptuous defeat of Cue Card in last year's Arkle Trophy. Wednesday will be his toughest senior test to date – his rivals are due to include two previous Champion Chase winners in Sizing Europe and his own stablemate Finian's Rainbow, and the unexposed Mail De Bievre – but he was foot-perfect in his dress rehearsal in January.

Henderson, 62, is the Festival meeting's leading trainer; his record seven winners last year brought his total to 46 in 27 years. But he has not taken the seasonal title since 1987 and one of this week's subplots will be his battle to catch the reigning champion, Paul Nicholls, with £6.12 million in prize money at stake.

The Seven Barrows team looks strong; it also includes My Tent Or Yours (Supreme Novices), Simonsig (Arkle Trophy) and Grandouet and Binocular (Champion Hurdle) on Tuesday; Captain Conan (Jewson Chase), Oscar Whisky (World Hurdle) and Riverside Theatre (Ryanair Chase) on Thursday; and Rolling Star (Triumph Hurdle) and Bobs Worth and Long Run (Gold Cup) on Friday.

But it is Sprinter Sacre, who stands 16.3 hands, has a fighting weight of 539kg and has earned the soubriquet "the big black aeroplane" because of the way he takes flight over a fence under Barry Geraghty, who carries the standard.

"There have been offers for him," added Henderson, "but he's not for sale. His owners have had some good ones in the past but this could be the horse of a lifetime."

Two a day for Cheltenham

Tuesday

This season Hurricane Fly (3.20) has seemed more like the horse who won the Champion Hurdle in 2011 and can become only the second – after Comedy Of Errors in 1975 – to regain the two-mile crown. A gamble was thwarted with defeat for Toner d'Oudaries (5.15) over hurdles at the meeting last year but compensation may await as a novice chaser.

Wednesday

There is no point in opposing Sprinter Sacre (3.20) in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but the superstar's serial victim Sanctuaire could place if the ground lightens up. Novice hurdler Pont Alexandre (2.05) has swept all before him in Ireland and looks worthy of emulating this contest's last two winners, Simonsig and First Lieutenant.

Thursday

In the absence of Big Buck's, the World Hurdle is wide open and it would be justice of a sort should Reve De Sivola (3.20), trounced by the great stayer at the start of the season but unbeaten since, pick up the baton. Look out for Argocat (1.30) in the novices' chase; he lacks the flashy profile of better-fancied rivals but his each-way price will reflect that.

Friday

Sir Des Champs (3.20) has been beaten only twice over obstacles and never at Cheltenham. He can become Ireland's first Gold Cup winner since War Of Attrition, in the same Michael O'Leary colours, in 2006. In the meeting's finale Rody (5.15) has been creeping up the handicap but may still have enough in hand for a bold show.

Sue Montgomery

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories