James Lawton: As promised, Sprinter Sacre delivered stars, each one brighter than the last at Cheltenham Festival

He has outstripped such titans as Desert Orchid and Kauto Star

The great crowd was subdued, even taut, when Sprinter Sacre was first paraded before them and his trainer, Nicky Henderson, later confessed his worry that he might have to retire to the medical room in fear of a heart attack.

It is the anxiety which comes with the promise of the greatest performance, the possibility that we might just be carried into another dimension, and certainly it is true that some extremely strong men were frequently rendered breathless when Muhammad Ali pranced into the ring in the days of his prime.

Often we don't need too much encouragement to make our own dreams and then so many of them are destroyed. This, though, was never the possibility today.

Sprinter Sacre promised the stars and then he delivered them, each one a little brighter than the last.

Today the dreams were not only saved, they were given quite extraordinary flight.

Henderson, at 62, was both delivered from his crisis of nerve and sufficiently exultant to declare: "This is getting into the realms of something pretty unique." No one began to demur.

Indeed, when all the data came in, all the stunning detail of his 19-length victory over the fine ex-champion Sizing Europe, the scale of this seven-year-old gelding was no longer a matter for speculation.

There are so many intangibles in the timing of great races – the weather, the surface, the particular hazards and obstructions – but when the Timeform rating of this performance was set against past achievement Sprinter Sacre was provisionally announced as the owner of the most remarkable figures since their ranking system was installed nearly 40 years ago.

When bringing a hush to the valley, then drawing a huge ovation of not so much sated emotion but bone-deep admiration of a performance delivered so thrillingly, Sprinter Sacre was seen to have outstripped such modern titans as Desert Orchid and Kauto Star and was, with so much of his career yet to unfold, just a shade behind the nonpareil of jump racing, the great Arkle.

It meant that Henderson's assessment was made to seem quite modest. Sprinter Sacre not only justified the clamour he created here last year when he gained his dazzling first win at the place where equine legends have so often announced themselves in the most unforgettable terms, he brought to it a new depth, a new sense that here was something so strong, so utterly exceptional we would have it always.

Because he has so much speed, because it burns away all opposition as though it is not so much a challenge as an act of extreme presumption, only a freak of nature might allow Sprinter Sacre to cover the longer three-mile-plus distances of such as Arkle and Kauto Star. But who would quibble about the extent of the gifts which came to this extraordinary animal who arrived at the unsuspecting Henderson's yard as an owner's allocation of a job lot of French bloodstock?

"I didn't know what I had, how could I?" Henderson mused. He was a man who had struck, almost innocently, an unfathomably rich vein of gold. But if that was the purest fortune, there was the terror of guarding such precious talent. "Yes, it has been terrifying," Henderson admitted. "So many things can go wrong, that is the horror." Today, though, there was the untrammelled joy of not only surviving the ordeal of trust and care but the fulfilment of an extraordinary mission.

Sprinter Sacre won the Queen Mother Champion Chase over two miles and if he ever goes a longer distance it will be a matter of fierce calculation. However, there was never a question that the yearning to see a great horse fill the vacuum left by the beguiling Kauto Star would not be handsomely met.

Henderson said: "I hope people enjoyed this today for what it was – something quite extraordinary, something I don't think we should ever forget."

The jockey Barry Geraghty was no less consumed by the scale of and the drama of the achievement.

There was an awe in his voice when he declared, "I've never ridden a horse that does it all so easily. He has such power and scope, and that gives him all the time he needs. He's like a top footballer, like Pele on the ball, who used it so easily because his speed and his power and skill gave him the time to do it.

"He made a mistake at the ditch, the first he's ever made, but he knew what he was doing and it really wasn't a mistake. He was long into the fence, really long, and he put down on me, but off that ground he was telling me it was the thing to do. Then he winged the next, then the last."

It was at that moment that Henderson knew, finally, that he would not be in need of anyone's medical attention, only the glass of good champagne he now grasped as he said: "This horse is just very, very special. Of course you enjoy it, every minute of it, but you still have to do it, the fences still have to be jumped, you still have to get through the days and the weeks and the months and when you talk about next year it can seem a very long time."

It was enough, at least for a little time, to live in the moment, to enjoy it and to be engulfed by it.

There have been many such days here in this valley. There has been Arkle, the majestic, unparalleled Arkle soaring to such astonishing equine achievement. There was Desert Orchid, besieging the regard of the nation, and there was Kauto, who when he was gently ridden out of last year's Gold Cup by Ruby Walsh left a new craving for another horse to fuel the dreams.

Now the demand has been met, more profoundly than most sober judges could ever have imagined.

Few great performers, human or equine, have ever been examined quite as closely as Sprinter Sacre was today. For the moment, at least, it seems hardly enough to say that he passed his test. What he did, of course, was fly beyond it.

Charity bet

Coral have donated a £100 bet for each day of the Festival, any proceeds going to charity.

Day three Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys' Association

American Trilogy (2.05)

I'll go £50 each-way. He's a past Festival winner who is back down to a good mark on firmer ground.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Physics Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Secondary teachers required for supply roles in Sudbury

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers re...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2C, Offline) - Wimbledon

£28000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successfully con...

Marketing Executive (B2C, Offline) - Wimbledon, SW London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An established and highly...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style