Sprinter Sacre, the two-mile champion chaser, was on Sunday night abruptly ruled out of the defence of his crown at the Cheltenham Festival, less than 48 hours after the most recent favourable update from his camp.
The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old, acclaimed as a near wonder horse after an unbeaten run of successes in his first 10 chases, capitulated tamely when pulled up on his reappearance at Kempton just after Christmas, when he was diagnosed with a defibrillating heart.
The patient has not progressed as connections had wished. Henderson admitted, after working Sprinter Sacre on Saturday, that he was not ready for a racecourse gallop, let alone the Festival. “I said the other week [Cheltenham] was 50-50, but quietly I thought it was above that. It’s not his heart. He’s just missing something, something like 10 per cent,” the trainer said.
Sire De Grugy is now 5-4 favourite for the Champion Chase, even though connections admit he is unsuited by the course.