Jump racing's one undisputed equine champion, the two-mile chaser Sire De Grugy, was a most welcome member of the line-up as the domestic season ended at Sandown. Those vying for superiority in other divisions over fences and hurdles will be testing each other again this week at Punchestown – Ireland's equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival and a logical continuation of the 2013-14 jumping narrative – but the admirable Gary Moore-trained chestnut gave the home fans a star to hail yesterday, and duly took the plaudits in the Celebration Chase, his fifth successive victory.
There were other title winners to cheer – Tony McCoy took his score for the campaign to 218 in the day's opener on Dispour, for instance – but it is horses who are the attraction first and foremost, and though Sire De Grugy was rather thrust into the spotlight after the physical problems that befell Sprinter Sacre, he has worn his inherited crown with absolute aplomb. And even if his jumping was not absolutely perfect yesterday, he was different class to his rivals and was given the reception he deserved as he drew clear of Pepite Rose on the testing run-in.
"His flip-flops are packed, he's off on holiday now," his rider, Jamie Moore, said. "He was a bit quiet today and he got a bit tired up that hill, but he's been rocking it in all the top races and he's won again even though he's probably not 100 per cent. You can't ask more and he's done us proud. Sprinter Sacre will probably be back next season, but we'll be giving him a go."
The season's human titles had been long decided before yesterday. In taking his 19th successive championship, Tony McCoy relegated Richard Johnson to his 15th runner-up spot. Paul Nicholls – who also signed off with a victory, from Southfield Theatre in the feature hurdle – is top trainer for the eighth time, though the deposed Nicky Henderson can perhaps take some comfort from more winners, a better strike rate and victory with the 10-1 shot Hadrian's Approach's narrow defeat of former stablemate Burton Port in yesterday's most valuable contest, the bet365 Gold Cup. And as leading owner, JP McManus has deployed both quality and quantity; his total of victories is more than the next 10 on the list put together. Those closest were John Provan, who took just the one significant prize, the Grand National, and Tim Preston, whose only horse is Sire De Grugy.
The next domestic season starts on Thursday, but there will be less of a break for those in demand at Punchestown from Tuesday. They will include Ruby Walsh, who made his first ride since breaking an arm at Cheltenham a winning one, on Un De Sceaux at Auteuil yesterday. The exciting Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old took his score to nine from nine as he made all to take a two-and-half mile hurdles contest with contemptuous ease. Old rival Gemix was six lengths adrift in fourth.
"I had been targeting Punchestown," Walsh said, "but this is a special horse and I wanted to be on him. And halfway down the back I was glad I'd put in the hours in the gym, as he was taking some grip."
Eyes will be on France again this afternoon as another unbeaten star, last year's Flat champion Treve, makes her eagerly awaited seasonal debut in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp. With the emphasis for older middle-distance stars on the major prizes of midsummer and autumn, a run in April could be seen as an unusually early start for one of the unbeaten Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine's calibre, but she is so superior on the training gallops at Chantilly that she needs the crucible of competition to sharpen her. "She has done everything we have asked of her at home," said the four-year-old's trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek, "and it all comes very easily to her, it is what she is used to. We now need to see her back on the course."
Treve, who transferred from the Head family colours to those of Sheikh Joaan Al Thani of Qatar after the third of her five victories, will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who missed the filly's Arc tour de force because of injury. The pair will be properly tested today; their seven rivals include race-fit top-class eight-year-old Cirrus Des Aigles, runner-up in the Dubai Sheema Classic last month.
Jump season champions
AP McCoy 218 wins
Richard Johnson 155
Jason Maguire 130
Paul Nicholls £2,464,167 (118 wins)
Nicky Henderson £2,004,306 (124)
Philip Hobbs £1,554,833 (106)
JP McManus £2,046,532 (121 wins)
John Provan £596,828 (5)
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