Sprinter's Irish journey far more than a lap of honour

They have somehow managed to coax the trainers of four other horses to turn it into something that might vaguely be presented as a race, but nobody is under any illusions. For the appearance of Sprinter Sacre on its opening day essentially serves as a ceremonial seal on what was already being billed, after unprecedented Irish success at Cheltenham last month, as the best Punchestown Festival yet.

The notion that his unbeaten record in chases might be in the slightest danger is confined to that last kernel of uncertainty which must subsist so long as any thoroughbred is invited to gallop for two miles through the mud and find his way across a dozen birch fences. Otherwise the Boylesports Champion Chase should prove as close to a lap of honour as might be encountered in a sport defined by its unpredictability.

Nicky Henderson will not be looking at it that way, naturally. The man who this week seals his third trainers' championship, and his first since 1987, can only really savour the privilege of supervising this glorious champion when he has welcomed a grinning Barry Geraghty back to the winner's enclosure. Even an assignment like this, on the face of it far more straightforward than the one Sprinter Sacre breezed through at Aintree earlier this month, takes Henderson through a spectrum of dread.

"You have to be mindful of horses at this time of year," Henderson admitted yesterday. "He's been to Cheltenham, he's been to Aintree. It's quite easy to say he's not getting terribly hard races, but those Festivals take quite a bit out of horses, whatever happens. But we've always said we'd like to take him over there."

In being prepared to have another go with Sizing Europe, the veteran treated with such startling disdain in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Henry De Bromhead may simply be reciprocating with a sporting gesture of his own. But Sizing Europe won this race in awful conditions last year, and can be relied upon to exploit any sudden chink in the hot favourite's armour. "It's the old cliché," De Bromhead said. "You should never be afraid of the one horse, as anything can happen."

Turf account

CHRIS McGRATH'S NAP: No Truth (3.20 Wolverhampton)

Very well-bred filly who found due improvement stepped up to this trip round here to win her maiden.

NEXT BEST: Maisie's Moon (5.35 Wolverhampton)

WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING: Ocovango is 12-1 from 16-1 with Ladbrokes for the Investec Derby.

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