One of the most popular French imports of all time to British racing, and frankly one of the best jumpers ever seen, was Sprinter Sacre.
Though a perfectly good hurdler in his early years, Sprinter Sacre was a wonderful steeplechaser winning the Arkle, Tingle Creek, Champion Chase and Melling Chase. He finished his career as one of the highest rated chasers of all time, writing his way into the National Hunt history books.
Sprinter Sacre won eighteen of his 24 career races in all, suffering an irregular heartbeat at once stage which curtailed his racing life somewhat.
Regardless, he reached the top quickly and ended his career that way too which is why he is undoubtedly one of the top five National Hunt horses of all time in Britain.
Sprinter Sacre’s Pedigree
Sprinter Sacre was foaled on April 23rd, 2006 in France. A brown colt and eventual gelding, he is by German sire Network out of show jumping or ‘Selle Francais’ mare Fatima III.
Although his pedigree reads fairly well, he’s not from the most prolific family which is why his success on the track is all the more remarkable.
|Sire/Dam||Grand Sire/Dam||Great Grand Sire/Dam|
|Bright Cherry||Knight of the Garter||Son-In-Law|
|Greenogue Princess||My Prince|
|Cherry Branch II|
Network has done well with his progeny over jumps. Rubi Ball, Rubi Light and Delta Work were all rated higher than 160 and all too were by Network.
He is by Monsun who is responsible for plenty of top-class horses on the Flat, though it was noticed quickly that he was pushing stamina into his progeny and that has led to success over the jumps. As well as Network, Monsun sired 163-rated Aramon too.
Having been brought across from France, Sprinter Sacre was to be trained by Nicky Henderson. He sent him for his debut to Ascot where he won a bumper race by just a nose. In a similar race at Ayr, he won by a bigger margin and it seemed the team had a star in the making.
Sprinter Sacre’s novice hurdle career began in November 2010, once again at Ascot where he was second. He returned at Ffos Las, winning by ten lengths before really looking the part back at Ascot where he won by seven without ever being asked for much effort.
He contested the 2011 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but could only managed third after hitting the last flight. He was sent off at odds of 11/1 that day and so not a whole lot more was expected of him at the top level while hurdling, chasing most certainly being his game.
With just the one season of hurdling under his belt, he was to go novice chasing during 2011/12. After winning his first chase at Doncaster by 24 lengths, he went to Kempton for the Wayward Lad Novices’ at Christmas. In winning that one by 16 lengths, it was clear he was among the best chasers around very early.
By February, he was already moving out of novice races and was sent to the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. Sent off at 2/5, he was ridden with confidence by Barry Geraghty and scored by six lengths.
Going back to novice company strictly speaking, Sprinter Sacre then went for the 2022 Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. In a field containing Cue Card and Al Ferof, he made the race a procession and won by seven lengths.
When he next went to Aintree, only three appeared to challenge him and what was now an extraordinary horse won as easily as he liked.
Nicky Henderson decided to wait until December 2012 to bring the gelding back, this time in the Tingle Creek at Sandown. He won that by 15 lengths before scoring similarly in the rescheduled Victor Chandler Chase in January.
In the Queen Mother Champion Chase on his next start, he was sent off at 1/4. That was the shortest price seen since Arkle in the Gold Cup in 1966 and he duly won by a yawning 19 lengths to a rapturous return.
Keen to keep going, Henderson bumped him up to 2½ miles at Aintree where he beat Ryanair Chase winner Cue Card, before going off to Punchestown where he scored yet again to become the first horse since Istabraq to win at the Cheltenham, Grand National and Punchestown festivals.
Kept for the Christmas Festival once again in late December at Kempton, he reappeared on December 27th 2013 in the Desert Orchid in which he was surprisingly pulled up. It was later discovered that he’d had an irregular heartbeat.
On his belated return to the track, Sprinter Sacre took in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January 2015. He was only second there, but needed the run ahead of another crack at the Champion Chase in March. His conqueror at Ascot, Dodging Bullets, was again successful however as Sprinter Sacre was pulled up.
A recovery had been reported in his work and so a return was mooted for Sprinter Sacre for the 2015/16 season.
He ran in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November which he won easily, before winning another Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas at Kempton albeit very narrowly.
He was waited with and was prepped at home for his third Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March 2016. In a strong field, the superstar was allowed to go off at odds of 5/1 for the race.
Sprinter Sacre made a mistake during the race too, but still stayed on to take the lead and then put daylight between himself and the rest. As a ten-year-old and after what he’d been through, that was a very special performance indeed.
He finished his season and his career on April 23rd, 2016, his tenth birthday in fact, with a win in the Celebration Chase at Sandown. He scored by 15 lengths to end his racing life very much in appropriate fashion.
Some of those performances were extraordinary. Timeform have Sprinter Sacre as their third highest rated chaser of all time and many believe him to be the very best. He reached an amazing official handicap mark of 188 in the 2013 Champion Chase and matched that soon after when winning at Aintree.
They were undoubtedly his standout wins on the numbers, but he managed to score in nine Grade 1 chase races overall.
Sprinter Sacre’s Grade 1 steeplechase wins:
|Date||Race||Won By (Runner-Up)||SP|
|13/03/12||Arkle Challenge Trophy, Cheltenham||7 lengths, Cue Card||8/11|
|14/04/12||Maghull Novices’ Chase, Aintree||13 lengths, Toubab||1/7|
|08/12/12||Tingle Creek Chase, Sandown Park||15 lengths, Kumbeshwar||4/11|
|26/01/13||Victor Chandler Chase, Cheltenham||14 lengths, Mad Moose||1/5|
|13/03/13||Queen Mother Champion Chase, Cheltenham||19 lengths, Sizing Europe||1/4|
|05/04/13||Melling Chase, Aintree||4½ lengths, Cue Card||1/3|
|23/04/13||Champion Chase, Punchestown||5½ lengths, Sizing Europe||1/9|
|16/03/16||Queen Mother Champion Chase, Cheltenham||3½ lengths, Un De Sceaux||5/1|
|23/04/16||Celebration Chase, Sandown Park||15 lengths, Un De Sceaux||11/10|
Often, we talk about what a horse contributes to the racing world after retirement, especially at stud. We can’t do that with Sprinter Sacre, but all he achieved on the track was more than enough.
Had Sprinter Sacre been around for as long as he was on the Flat and managed nine top-level victories, then his earnings could well have exceeded £3 million.
As it was, his win and place prize money amounted to £1,136,884 which in 2022 cash is around £1.4 million.
That’s a good figure, one which was shared around well with the owner, trainer and his regular jockeys all contributing well to a career that will live very long in the collective horse racing memory.
The human connection is always important. A Selle Francaise racehorse, Sprinter Sacre was bred in France but was bought as part of a job lot of horses bought from there.
Owners Raymond and Caroline Mould purchased 22 French horses for around €300,000, a major undertaking considering the training fees involved for 22 horses, but a bargain considering what they ended up with where Sprinter Sacre was concerned.
Caroline Mould’s name appears as the official owner of the horse, with the family sending him to Nicky Henderson to be trained. Henderson is a multiple champion trainer in Britain and has done particularly well with two-milers, also being the trainer of Altior for example.
A stable favourite in Upper Lambourn before the team even knew how special he was, Sprinter Sacre apparently got his own way and had his own idea of how things should be done!
On the track, Barry Geraghty was his regular jockey for Henderson. Geraghty partnered him to 13 of his career wins, with Nico de Boinville taking over later in the horse’s career. De Boinville was on board for four of his successes, two at Grade 2 level and two at the very top which saw him bow out on a high.