Cheltenham Festivals Trials: Sacre Bleu! It's a magnificent seven
A RECORD Festival Trials Day crowd were treated to a jaw-dropping display by Sprinter Sacre as he hammered home his position as jump racing's biggest must-see attraction.
Owned by Caroline and Raymond Mould from Gloucestershire, he routed his rivals in the Victor Chandler Chase to take another giant step towards legendary status.
Once the 1-5 favourite powered into an early lead under Barry Geraghty the race was as good as over.
Though officially he finished 14 lengths clear of Nigel Twiston-Davies' long shot Mad Moose, every one of the 18,208 racegoers at Prestbury Park on Saturday knew that in reality he was in a different world to his rivals.
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Raymond Mould has been associated with a string of high-class horses, notably Gold Cup hero Charter Party and Grand National winner Bindaree, but he rates Sprinter Sacre as the best "by quite along way."
"I never had a horse that's won seven out of seven before," he said.
"The way he walks around the parade ring beforehand, he knows he's a star and he's a bit of a show-off.
"He seems to love all the attention and the crowd seem to love him."
Sprinter Sacre will now probably head straight for the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival as he looks to give trainer Nicky Henderson his third win in the race, after Remittance Man in 1992 and Finian's Rainbow last year.
With Sprinter Sacre long odds-on to win the race, it threatens to attract the smallest-ever field, with every chance of beating the five runners who turned up in 1961, 1963, 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1985.
Henderson said: "Barry's confidence in him is unbelievable. He knows you can jump anything with him.
"He's such a gorgeous horse to look at, you would think he would be something special.
"He knows he is special and I suppose we are all starting to believe he might be."
Henderson's pre-race concerns about Rolling Star proved unfounded as the French recruit made a winning start to his career in Britain and press home his claims for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Part-owned by Lord Vestey, the former chairman of the racecourse, he had to be only shaken up in the closing stages by Geraghty to get the better of odds-on favourite Irish Saint in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial.
Henderson said: "It was only his second run over hurdles and he'd had a few runs on the Flat in France at places I'd never heard of and not won, so I was a bit concerned.
"He's a lovely horse, he has a great temperament and a great attitude and he always does his work well. Barry said he jumped great and I suppose the Triumph Hurdle is the obvious one to head for now.
"The decision we have to make now is whether to give him another run beforehand.
"Barry said he didn't have a desperately hard race and there's time."
Henderson said Oscar Whisky's target at the Festival will be the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, setting up a rematch with Reve De Sivola who beat him in the Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle.
He said the way Oscar Whisky stuck to his guns in the closing stages seemed to prove his stayed three miles, which he hadn't been sure about beforehand.
"If it's good ground he'll go for the World Hurdle, but at the same time we want to win the Aintree Hurdle for the third time in April and if we thought running him at Cheltenham could sacrifice that, we might pass," he said.
Reve De Sivola's trainer Ian Williams wasn't certain his gelding would beat Oscar Whisky again in the World Hurdle, in which other rivals are likely to include the prolific winning mare Quevega.
"There are some pretty formidable opponents in there and I don't think there's much between Reve De Sivola and Oscar Whisky," he said. "On fast ground, it might turn in Oscar Whisky's favour."
Venetia Williams said the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup was an "attractive option" for Katenko after he demolished the field in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase, won last year by David Bridgwater's subsequent Gold Cup runner-up The Giant Bolster.
Even though he didn't have runner this year, the Stow-on-the-Wold trainer will have been pleased with the result again because one of his other top horses, Gold Cup contender Wyck Hill, beat Katenko at Ascot in December.
Williams said bringing Katenko back to two and half miles after the fast-improving chaser won over three miles last time out had suited Aidan Coleman's mount.
"You really need to stay three miles be effective running up the hill at Cheltenham in that sort of heavy ground, and it's job done," she said.
"The Gold Cup looks an attractive option."
So often the bridesmaid and rarely the bride, Vino Griego said a resounding 'I do' when jockey Jamie Moore asked him if he wanted to win the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase.
Even Moore admitted the gelding hadn't always given of his best in races, but he held nothing back as he stormed clear for a 19-length success.
"This horse has been running well all year," said Moore, whose trainer dad Gary was attending the FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Brighton and Hove Albion.
"He's been called a few names – I've called him names – but he does enjoy racing even though he gets beaten a lot.
"We thought he had a chance today and I took my time a bit more, so maybe that's the way to ride him. He's always run respectably and now hopefully he can build on this now."