Sprinter Sacre started the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton yesterday unbeaten in 10 chases and all but lionised as the Frankel of jumping; three-fifths of the way through the contest he had given up the struggle, not as some equine Graeme Swann but a fallen idol whose spirit was willing but flesh proved all too weak.
The seven-year-old’s rider, Barry Geraghty, who had shared all his triumphs over fences, pulled him up almost as he landed after the seventh. Sprinter Sacre had put in a prodigious leap two fences earlier to move into second in the six-runner field behind the front-running Fago, but had yielded that place to his main rival Sire De Grugy by the seventh. Geraghty remained on board as he trotted back, allaying initial fears that his mount had broken down. In post-race tests vets found an irregular heartbeat.
Nicky Henderson, Sprinter Sacre’s trainer, said in the immediate aftermath of the calamity: “He landed on the back of the fence and Barry said he was empty. He was looking great, he jumped the first very well and his work was unbelievable.”
With his charge continuing to display the heart irregularity, Henderson later resolved to take him home to Lambourn before sending him to medical facilities in Newmarket for fuller tests today. “We were thinking of taking him to Newmarket straight away but I think the horse has had a lot of stress today and I’d rather take him home tonight,” the trainer explained.
Denman, the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, provides an example of recovery from such a case of atrial fibrillation to compete with the best, but never regained his air of invulnerability and that is what Sprinter Sacre also lost in an instant yesterday.
Sire De Grugy, who won Sandown’s Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at the start of this month (when Sprinter Sacre was an absentee after unsatisfactory medical tests), was not hard pressed to beat Oiseau De Nuit by four lengths in this Grade Two race. With the winner quite likely to bypass the Cheltenham Festival, betting on the Champion Chase was all but suspended last night.