Cheltenham Festival: Sizing can offer real measure of Sacre's greatness
He bestrides the whole meeting, much its most feasible colossus. True, only the desperate or deranged will actually be tempted by the available odds, but nobody goes to a coronation to sell ermine. And the sort of show you get from Sprinter Sacre tends to be its own reward.
Mind you, the Queen Mother Champion Chase tomorrow promises the most instructive measure yet of a talent that has so far expressed itself with neither fetter nor margin. For not only does Sprinter Sacre meet a rival who still seems to represent a legitimate gold standard in this discipline, even at the age of 11, in Sizing Europe. He also seems guaranteed a rare lack of timidity in the way at least one of the others sets about the challenge.
Mail De Bievre, imported from France, showed terrific dash in front when making his first start for Tom George at Newbury last month. In the closing stages, admittedly, he dropped right out – but that race was over three miles in testing ground. Dropped all the way back to the minimum two-mile trip tomorrow, he shapes like one of the few horses around at least capable of giving the favourite a decent tow.
The owner and stable of Sizing Europe, conversely, remain regularly tempted by longer distances – and he, too, is likely to be ridden prominently to bring his stamina into play. As a result, this race should be run at a proper championship tempo, and so provide Sprinter Sacre with a platform to demonstrate just how special he might be.
Plenty in the sport have already succumbed to a congenital need to proclaim its latest champion as potentially the best, in a given discipline, they have ever seen. As his trainer nervously remarks, expectations of Sprinter Sacre are so immodest that people will be very easy to disappoint. Let due respect be given, then, to what he would achieve if able to see off Sizing Europe with all his customary swagger.
Sizing Europe has won twice at this meeting, as a novice in 2010 and then in the 2011 running of this race, and again ran a cracker when second to Finian's Rainbow last year. Arguably the messy circumstances of that race conspired against him – he lost both room and momentum when the last fence was bypassed – and he is otherwise unbeaten in his last nine starts at this trip. Sizing Europe has looked as good as ever this winter, albeit in small fields back in Ireland, and those privileged to be at Cheltenham tomorrow owe a heartfelt vote of thanks to his connections: his owners, for resisting the temptation to sidle away to the Ryanair Chase; and his trainer, Henry de Bromhead, for masterfully prolonging the horse's appetite and reliably bringing him to a peak every March.
The return to spring ground has probably helped him do so, in years past, but the dead conditions seem unlikely to prove congenial to any horse – and could conceivably narrow the presumed gap with Sprinter Sacre. The bottom line for anyone determined to dilute the purity of tomorrow's spectacle with a bet is that a horse as accomplished as Sizing Europe, each-way, remains the only sane option.
But while the odds are unpalatable, the stage is set for a defining performance from Sprinter Sacre – a simply gorgeous animal, whose charisma further infects the vitality and dynamism of his jumping. If he has increasingly frightened rivals away, while avoiding a corresponding vacuum in his reputation, then tomorrow is his chance to make an impact that deserves to last.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Flaxen Flare (4.40)
Back In Focus (1.30)
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