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Sprinter Sacre electrifies in 'race of season'

Sprinter Sacre turned in his most accomplished round of jumping to date when cruising home the easy winner of the Melling Chase at Aintree.

Never, at any stage, did the champion chaser look in danger of defeat in a clash that had been widely billed as the 'race of the season'.

"He did what we thought he'd do," said delighted jockey Barry Geraghty. "We've come to expect great performances from him, and he gave us a great performance. He was brilliant, although I could have done with them going a bit quicker. He travelled a bit too well. I had to take him back in the field a few times and couldn't really let him use his jumping."

There were times when it appeared Geraghty would let Sprinter Sacre stride on around the field into the lead, as he had done in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month. But several times he reined him in, increasing and decreasing the tempo like a motorbike rider messing with the throttle.

As for the debate about whether he would cope with the step up to two and a half miles for the first time, there was no issue. At yesterday's pace, he could have gone another circuit and won by a wider margin, but trainer Nicky Henderson was not in a hurry to make a snap decision on tackling even longer distances.

"I don't think we'll be thinking of the King George at this particular moment," he said. "You've seen how good he is at two miles. He's so electric at that trip, why go and press something you don't have to? We did it with Remittance Man (Henderson's 1992 Queen Mother Champion Chase winner) and nearly won the King George.

"You might get away with it with a horse of Sprinter Sacre's talent, but I think we'll stick to what we know."

Reluctant

The trainer was reluctant to totally rule out a visit to Punchestown later in the month, although it looks unlikely that he will make the trip.

For the record, Sprinter Sacre won by four and a half lengths, making the second-placed Cue Card, an authoritative winner of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, look pedestrian. There was a further gap of 19 lengths back to top Irish chaser Flemenstar.

In terms of exerting authority, Sprinter Sacre could not have been more emphatic, and with two established, smart horses filling the minor placings, the ratings gurus will be set to elevate him to an even higher mark than his present 188.

"I've got to admit he's top of my pile," said Henderson, who has a string rich in talent including Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth. "But I'm not going to compare him to other people's horses. Somebody wrote a lovely piece about Corky Browne the other day, and he talked about Killiney.

"We all thought he was going to be one of the great horses of all time and we know what happened to him," the trainer pointed out. Killiney, trained by Fred Winter, was killed in a race at Ascot in 1973.

"I'm just the curator of a spectacular horse, and today was another test for him," said Henderson.

Henderson's serene progress to the trainers' championship was accelerated by three other winners on the card. These included My Tent Or Yours, which shrugged off a hard race at the Festival to make light of an easy task in the opener.

His owner, JP McManus, has another of the season's top novice hurdlers in At Fishers Cross, which coped readily with the faster ground to extend his unbeaten spree in the John Smith's Novice Hurdle. In the marvelling words of his jockey, Tony McCoy, Rebecca Curtis "has turned this horse inside out".

There was also a dazzling return to form from Dynaste in the Mildmay Novices' Chase. Now he really does look an ideal type for the King George – but that is strictly on the basis that Sprinter Sacre does not show up.

• No fewer than 25 of the 29 jockeys who lined up for the Topham were given one-day bans for disobeying the starter. Liam Treadwell was spared as he was in hospital having X-rays, while Ruby Walsh, Brian Harding and Tom O'Brien were the only others to be exonerated. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent