Cheltenham Festival: Sizing Europe no match for sizzling Sprinter Sacre

Nicky Henderson’s rising star dominates rivals in Queen Mother Champion Chase

The idea had been to establish just how good this impossibly glamorous creature might be. Ludicrously, after seeing Sprinter Sacre dismiss his toughest opponent yet with all his usual élan, we still don’t know – and it is becoming difficult to imagine just how anyone is supposed to find out. At this rate, they are going to have to devise a different set of rules for the winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Strap a barrel to his rider, perhaps, or give the others a 30-second start. As things stand, his performance here suggests that the mantle of Frankel, as an idol of the modern Turf, has been passed to a steeplechaser.

Certainly Sprinter Sacre has the flair to transcend the boundaries of what can seem an arcane sport. Appreciation of his animal swagger does not require even the most rudimentary expertise. His sheer pulchritude is matched by such effervescence and animation that his leap over the last fence seemed to span the entire Festival. It no longer seemed to matter whether or not the Gold Cup might yield a vintage spectacle. Nothing could now displace Sprinter Sacre as the defining performer of the week – and of a sport that had reckoned itself bereft when Kauto Star retired last year. The odds were so short that no venality, for once, infected the acclaim of the stands. Everyone was simply exulting in their privilege.

After seven wins in seven starts over fences, they had seen the bar raised for Sprinter Sacre. Though now 11 years old, Sizing Europe set a benchmark of undiminished class and enthusiasm. Twice a winner over this course, and a noble second last year, the Irish horse jumped and travelled superbly as Mail De Bievre blazed a trail, and was prompted to throw down the gauntlet as the leader blundered at the last ditch. And it was here that Sprinter Sacre intimated his mortality for the first and only time. “It wasn’t really a mistake,” Barry Geraghty said afterwards. “He knew what he was doing. He was long into it, really long, and he put down on me. But off that dead ground he was telling me that was the thing to do.”

Geraghty then let his mount glide alongside Sizing Europe, and the pair of them instantly opened up by a dozen lengths or more on the rest. Now came the moment of truth.

It was settled with brutal efficiency, as the flourish of a scimitar. Suddenly Sizing Europe was off the bridle, and Sprinter Sacre hurtling clear with Geraghty motionless. Any vestige of resistance was extinguished as the veteran stumbled on a path across the track, but he regrouped gallantly to confine the margin between them to 19 lengths, with Wishfull Thinking claiming footnote status in third.

The responsibility of supervising this breathtaking talent is not lost on Nicky Henderson, now trainer of 49 Festival winners. “I hope the public did enjoy watching him because I’m not sure I did!” he said. “You sort of enjoy it, but they still have to do it. There are fences to jump, and you have to be careful because he does find it so ridiculously easy. He loves to attack and you do worry complacency might creep into it.”

Henderson accepts that he has never trained a chaser like this. “He has an aura about him,” he said. “He knows he’s good. He doesn’t hide it under a bushel, doesn’t do anything by halves. It’s the way he lives. Barry enjoys it, the horse enjoys it, and I hate it. But it’s fun afterwards. He’s nearly the perfect racehorse. We were well aware that anything bar stunning wouldn’t keep people happy. But that was stunning.”

Sprinter Sacre may now proceed to Punchestown next month but it may not be easy to find anyone prepared to take him on. That was once Moscow Flyer’s stamping ground, and Geraghty always shows decorous respect for his experiences on that horse. But he is finding it increasingly hard to resist the consensus that few jockeys of his generation have ever had such a conveyance.

“I have ridden some brilliant horses over the years,” he said. “But the ease and grace he does it with sets him apart. He has such power and scope, and that gives him all the time he needs. He’s like Pele on the ball, doing it all so easily because his speed and power and skill gave him time. I have never ridden anything so natural.”

Henry De Bromhead saluted Sizing Europe as his own “horse of a lifetime”, and should be proud of his own role, but was under no illusions as he surveyed the majestic winner in the unsaddling enclosure. “We had a go and served it up to him,” the Co Waterford trainer said. “But we’ve come out second best. He’s a phenomenon.”

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?