Triple crown for Sprinter despite slow Irish going

Henderson's exceptional champion clinches trio of elite wins but is pushed hard by Sizing Europe

Punchestown

Well, that was a lot closer to the bottom of the barrel – but even the residue was potent enough to identify a quite exceptional vintage. Sprinter Sacre duly extended his dominion here, and if the colossus did not quite bestride Irish mud the way he had his home turf, then nobody was complaining. After the Boylesports Champion Chase, the champion could not have been received with greater fervour had he been one of their own.

For the previous race to have been won by a horse named Il Fenomeno implied that destiny was not reserving any imponderable disaster for the 1-9 favourite. The saddling boxes were besieged, and an impenetrable throng girdled the parade ring. Even the President, Michael Higgins, was here, while the former two-mile champion Moscow Flyer – against whom Barry Geraghty had previously been able to measure his every other mount – absorbed the sinking sun like the fading glow of veneration, strolling round his old stamping ground on 19-year-old limbs. Then they stripped the rug off his usurper, in their mutual jockey's pantheon, and the few blessed with a clear view gasped at his epoch-making pulchritude.

Nicky Henderson, Sprinter Sacre's trainer, exuded his usual anxiety – and was ritually complemented by the smiles and waves of Geraghty, as he mounted up and sent the paragon bounding down to the start. Once the race got under way, however, it was easier to incline towards Henderson's point of view. Sprinter Sacre was very free in the early stages, tracking Sizing Europe, and as the pair left three lesser escorts trailing with half a mile still to run it seemed plain that Geraghty was holding his mount together somewhat more precariously than usual in the tiring ground. It made sense. After all, this was his third Grade One assignment in six weeks, and he had explored a new frontier when trying another half-mile at Aintree last time.

Sure enough, Geraghty had to ride him quite firmly to take command over the second last and assert by five and a half lengths. "Ten out of 10!" exclaimed the commentator. It was a reference to the winner's record over fences, sooner than a score for this performance – which was closer, by his standards, to a seven.

The admirable runner-up was himself warmly hailed on his return to be unsaddled by Henry de Bromhead. "We said we'd throw the kitchen sink at your man," the trainer said. "And at least we got him off the bridle today. But he's just incredible."

And now here he was, the winner – every inch the superior being, as he calmly entered an animal din of exultant noise and pop music. "It was tougher today," Henderson admitted. "Barry said the horse was at his best at Cheltenham, not as sharp at Aintree, and not as sharp again today. But you had to have him at his absolute peak for his championship, and to come back again, and back again, takes a very good horse. It doesn't matter how easy a race it looks like they are having, it has to take something out of them – to come to these theatres, and put in all that adrenalin.

"Fair play to Sizing Europe, but this horse can't jump out of that ground quite the same. He was clinical and clean, but he wasn't winging them the way he can.

"It's always special coming here, though, and the Irish are a nation of horse-lovers. When you've got a horse like this – and he is stunning – you feel you owe it to everyone to bring him here. There's no point sitting at home."

Sprinter Sacre is the first since Istabraq in 1999 to win elite prizes at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown in the same spring. "It was the best reception I've ever had," Geraghty said. "I haven't seen anything like it since Desert Orchid won the Irish Grand National when I was nine or 10. It was crazy in the winner's enclosure.

"Sizing Europe put it to us today, and I had to work," Geraghty added. "That ground didn't suit my lad, and from four out it wasn't as easy for him as it had been elsewhere. But we still put it to bed. Class got him through today."

He predictably overshadowed the other big winners on the card, Jezki and Mount Belbunben. Paddy Power saw fit to slash Jezki from 14-1 to just 6-1 for the Champion Hurdle after he avenged his Cheltenham defeat by Champagne Fever with a runaway success in the big novice hurdle.

However, while you could not argue with its style, the substance of this particular performance is questionable. Rule The World was pulled up before halfway with a slipping saddle, while Champagne Fever jumped shoddily before dropping away like a horse who had done enough for the season. But that in itself was another measure of the limitless Sprinter Sacre.

Godolphin punters get refund

Ladbrokes and William Hill have announced they are to refund thousands of pounds worth of bets after 11 horses, including the unbeaten 1,000 Guineas hope Certify, tested positive for anabolic steroids at the stables of Godolphin trainer Mahmoood al-Zarooni.

Ladbrokes said they will return £200,000 worth of bets placed on horses tested positive for steroids. William Hill confirmed they will refund all ante-post bets on the following four horses from the Godolphin stables: Certify, Desert Bloom, Artigiano and Restraint of Trade.

Coral have stated they are also refunding bets placed on the same four horses.

A William Hill's spokeswoman, Kate Miller, said: "This is an unprecedented eventuality, and no one betting could have predicted these events. We believe the fairest result for our customers is to refund their bets placed on the Godolphin runners."

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Spanish Duke (3.55 Epsom) Has looked quirky, including on his reappearance, but enjoys this track.

Next best

Roc De Prince (4.45 Catterick) Back to form last time.

One to watch

Poole Harbour (Richard Hannon) Looked transformed by a gelding operation on his return at Windsor on Monday.

Where the money's going

What A Name is 6-1 from 8-1 with William Hill for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas.

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