BRAVERY, good looks, supreme ability and character are the attributes required to attain true superstar status if any of the genuine headline makers of the past five decades are anything to go by.
Most household names in the jumping world have all those qualities, but there is also that added ingredient of being able to capture the attention and the imagination of the public at large. Arkle, of course, was out on his own on that score.
But since Himself, there has been Desert Orchid in the eighties, One Man in the nineties, Best Mate in the ‘noughties’, and in more recent times, the brilliant Kauto Star, who will forever be twinned with his long-time stablemate Denman. Their glorious exploits are still fresh in the memory.
Kauto Star was every inch the glamorous champion. He displayed superb ability, athleticism and sheer class. He carried himself like a star, looking around with a wide gaze to detect any possible camera-carrying fan. He knew he was the focus of attention and he never disappointed his adoring public.
He and Denman, who were stabled in adjacent boxes at Paul Nicholls’s Ditcheat base for many years, were chalk and cheese.
While Kauto would prick his ears, yearning for attention, Denman, if he was not in the mood, would turn away and stick his backside up against the front door. And there would be no changing his Mr Grumpy act.
Desert Orchid was in a class of his own during his era, a truly versatile champion who excelled at distances from two to more than 3½ miles.
His running style was breathtaking. He took off outside the wings, leaving his connections and followers gulping for air. He sometimes got it wrong, but crikey, he was brave.
He was a grey and this had a hugely positive effect on his popularity. Fans loved him, and he had his own way of doing things.
Not for him the easy rhythmic loping along in front, he was more hell-for-leather, attempting to demoralise his opposition – and more often than not he did.
When Desert Orchid won the Gold Cup at the 1989 Cheltenham Festival, he did it against the odds. In reality, he hated Cheltenham, yet in the most miserable conditions he overcame all obstacles to enjoy his finest moment. That star quality carried him through. He rose above it all on his bogey course.
So, who will be the next jumping superstar, the new Kauto Star? To most involved in the game, there is only one answer. He he is a horse who has already won at the Festival and impressed with his ability to excite and entertain: Sprinter Sacre, the Nicky Henderson-trained favourite for Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Frankly, he looks a world-beater, and all those associated with him believe him to possess that potential. Henderson says: “I am absolutely terrified watching him in a race, but Barry [Geraghty] says it is the most brilliant feeling you can get as a jockey riding him. That says it all.
“What I find amazing is how easy it all seems to him. He is very quick and accurate, and he wants to get on with it. We would never want to disappoint him. Barry will let him stride on at the right time.”
A great racing star must have presence, and Sprinter Sacre more than qualifies. “There is no doubt he knows he’s very good,” Henderson says. “He has that air about him. He expects to be noticed, he loves the attention. He is just a magnificent horse.”
Other contenders for possible superstar status — though less likely than Sprinter Sacre — are his stablemates Simonsig and Bobs Worth, and the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti. All could achieve a breakthrough in popularity should they register noteworthy victories next week.
Henderson has spent most of the past six weeks trying to play down the chances of Gold Cup favourite Bobs Worth, who has not run since winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November. “He’s had only one run outside novice company, admittedly that resulted in a win in the Hennessy, but this is a big step up for him,” he says. “Long Run, on the other hand, has won a Gold Cup, as well as two King Georges. He’s much more seasoned.”
That said, Bobs Worth is a true Cheltenham specialist and he goes particularly well when fresh. Henderson says that you would not know Bobs Worth was in the yard; he just does his work, eats his food, goes racing and wins his races. No fuss. No prima donna tendencies.
Sprinter Sacre is poised to be jump racing’s next pin-up. All it will take is another electric round of jumping in the Queen Mother, and the promotions people will be ordering the scarves, T-shirts and caps to keep us all decked out for the rest of the season.
Seeing stars: Four with the wow factor
7-y-o bay gelding (Network - Fatima III)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Race: Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday)
He is wthout question a horse with star quality written all over him. He is an enthusiastic yet immaculate jumper. His dashing style of clearing his fences leaves fans with their hearts in their mouths.
7-y-o grey gelding (Fair Mix - Dusty Too)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Race: Arkle Trophy (Tuesday)
He has won both his starts over fences by wide margins, yet his home reputation is even greater. His grey colouring helps him stand out. He has the looks and the ability.
8-y-o bay gelding (Bob Back - Fashionista)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Race:Gold Cup (Friday)
An unimposing yet likeable individual who is a total professional. Loves Cheltenham, having won all four outings there, including at last two Festivals. Tough and reliable.
7-y-o chestnut gelding (Dom Alco - Gazelle Lulu)
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Race: Gold Cup (Friday)
A rapid improver through the ranks, who has produced some stunning performances in the past 12 months. Cat-like in his jumping and probably capable of climbing higher through the ranks.
- Jim McGrath, Telegraph.co.uk