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Sacre bleu: Sprinter thrills in front of 18,000 at Punchestown

Sprinter Sacre proved that he has the resolve to match his mesmerising class by thrilling a record crowd with a gritty success in the Boylseports.com Champion Chase on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival.

Billed as racing's most precious commodity following the retirement of Flat superstar Frankel last year, the Nicky Henderson-trained champion chaser crossed the water for a first time amid huge expectation.

Sent off at prohibitive odds of 1/9, he fulfilled his brief with an uncomplicated victory over Sizing Europe, though a five-and-a-half-length margin, in contrast to the 19 that separated the pair when Barry Geraghty's mount (right) brought the house down in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, reflected the vastly different nature of this assignment in testing ground conditions.

Still, Sprinter Sacre – one of four winners tipped in yesterday's Irish Independent at accumulated odds of 67/1 – continued to cement his place among equine immortals, stretching his unbeaten run over fences to a perfect 10 as he became the first horse since Istabraq in 1999 to triumph in Grade Ones at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown.

On a fittingly glorious day, attendance swelled by 30pc to 18,607, and the sense that it was a historic occasion to be in Kildare was evident in the way spectators thronged around the parade ring to get a glimpse of the handsome chaser. For all that his performance was less superlative than usual, no one left disappointed. "It's the best reception I've had," Geraghty gushed after receiving a raucous welcome in the winner's enclosure.

"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!"

Henderson echoed those sentiments, saying: "The reception and appreciation he got was very, very special."

Irish Independent