Sprinter Sacre ensured that there wasn't a dry eye in the house after he landed an emotional running of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon.
The 5/1 second favourite won this race in 2013 but had not been at his best since following well-documented problems with his heart but there had been signs in recent months that he was back to somewhere near championship winning form.
Given a cool ride by jockey Nico de Boinville, Sprinter Sacre tracked the leaders throughout and took up the running turning for home as both Un De Sceaux and Special Tiara began to weaken.
An awkward jump at the last didn't stop his momentum as he ran on up the hill to record a three and a half-length victory from 4/6 favourite Un De Sceaux.
His victory gave trainer Nicky Henderson his 55th Festival winner and his fourth winner of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Henderson was understandably emotional following the race and struggled to hold back the tears as his stable star was given a hero's welcome back into the winners' enclosure.
"To come back and do that after all that time - it's incredible," said Henderson.
"The two years in the wilderness were dark days. It's right up there with one of my best achievements. I did say that if he and Tent (My Tent Or Yours who was second in the Stan James Champion Hurdle after two years off the track) won then I'd retire!
"He's been a very special horse. To have those two golden years when he was unbeaten was incredible - I always said I don't think he's got back there but maybe he has. He had to be as good as he was to do that today.
"There were days when we thought it was working and then when we didn't. Caroline (Mould - owner) has just been fantastic. I was never under any pressure at all so we could just do our own thing and if it didn't happen, it didn't happen. It's been well worth it though. Even the public and the press didn't put us under any pressure - no one was baying for his retirement or anything like that.
"There was always something there. This is completely different to where he was a couple of years ago though. Everybody at the yard has put it all together. He still lives in that funny old barn at the back of the yard in the dark - that's where he likes it. He doesn't want to be promoted to another. He likes his little corner and likes doing his own thing.
"He's just been so feisty all season. We knew he was a different horse this season when he came back in - he just looked so good. He didn't need another race after Kempton and we didn't even have a racecourse gallop with him. He's just so big now - I've been looking at him every night for the last three weeks and he's just so big.
"This is what we do it for. He is a treasure - of course he is. You can see from the reaction - he's quite popular!"
'PHENOMENAL' SPRINTER GIVES DE BOINVILLE HIS ALL
Sprinter Sacre's return to the winner's enclosure after regaining his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase title received a deafening, heart-felt reception from the Cheltenham crowd.
Sent off at 5/1, the Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old was devastatingly impressive to win by three and a half lengths.
He won the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2013, but later that season was found to suffering from a fibrillating heart and missed the 2014 race. He was pulled up in last year's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. He is the second horse to regain the Queen Mother Champion Chase title, following on from Moscow Flyer in 2003 and 2005.
Jockey Nico de Boinville said: "I'm lost for words. I thought I used every superlative last year [after winning the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on Coneygree], but this is unbelievable. It's definitely on a par with winning the Gold Cup. Sprinter Sacre gave me his all today. It is an absolute privilege to ride him. I've been a very lucky boy from the word go, the moment I entered Sevens Barrows, that the governor let me even sit on this horse, and now I'm allowed to take the reins on the track. I'm purely a passenger on there. The governor has shown so much faith in me and so much in the horse. We went through some very difficult times and he has repaid our faith with a performance like that.
"He's phenomenal; he knows what he's doing and you just let him do it and try not to interfere too much.
"I thought I might be challenging a bit earlier, to be honest, but Un De Sceaux just kicked off the hill and then took a breather going down it, and that's when Sprinter gets into gear, so maybe he wasn't taking a breather, maybe I was just getting into gear. Then he's gone to challenge him and he's got so many gears when he gets upsides that he's just taken Un De Sceaux out in a couple of strides, and then it was just amazing then.
"He's done really well to hang on as well - he was definitely fading towards the line. He showed a lot of guts today, and he had to show that battling tendency he had to show at Kempton.
"It was really nice to build a sequence [of wins this season] again on the back of two really disappointing years. It's a very emotional day, and great for [owner] Mrs Mould as well after the loss of [husband] Raymond. For everyone involved it's very emotional - there's not a dry eye in sight now.
"Can I say a big thank you to the whole racing community, we've had a tough last month with our family and this is the icing on the cake. I'm very happy."
Asked about the huge reception he received from the crowd when entering the winner's enclosure, the jockey said: "It's incredible, particularly with the new building here - the setting is like the Coliseum.
"I'm very aware that Barry [Geraghty, who won the 2013 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Sprinter Sacre] is in the weighing-room, but all credit to him, he's helped me along and hasn't had a bad word to say to me. He's been very gracious and helped me out an awful lot, so I owe him an awful lot as well."
SCEAUX GOOD, BUT SPRINTER STEALS THE SHOW
Nothing that happens at the remainder of this year's Cheltenham Festival will upstage the victory by returning champion Sprinter Sacre in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
In the light of that, places for Un De Sceaux and Special Tiara behind the great old warrior were performances of notable merit. Un De Sceaux, the 4/6 favourite, was beaten three and a half lengths, and finished a nose in front of the 16/1 chance Special Tiara.
Ruby Walsh, who rode the favourite, said: "He just didn't have the speed on the ground," a view echoed by trainer Willie Mullins. He said: "To be beaten by Sprinter Sacre is no shame.
"It's very hard to bring a horse back in that way - it's hard to train them at home when they are carrying an injury [Sprinter Sacre was found to have an irregular heart beat after running poorly at Kempton in December 2013, and was pulled up in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase last year], so you are creeping and crawling all the time in a bid to get the horse fit with the least amount of hard work. It's a huge achievement.
"It shows you the good ones can come back.
"Un De Sceaux would have liked a bit more rain on the ground - that's all I can think. It seemed to be a very fast pace, and I believe he will want softer ground as he gets older. He's a horse that gives everything in his races, so there was nothing more Ruby could do. If this horse is unable to stay with one that has just come upsides him it means he has given everything."
Henry de Bromhead, Special Tiara's trainer, said: "I was delighted with him. He jumped brilliantly and galloped away, and Noel [Fehily] was very happy too. Special Tiara could go back to Sandown - he was very good there last year and we will be strongly considering it, but I wouldn't like to be definite. We'll see how he comes out of this. He lost very little in defeat.
"It was an exceptional training performance by Nicky to bring Sprinter Sacre back like that - I have great admiration for the horse and trainer."
1 Sprinter Sacre (FR) Nicky Henderson 11st 10lb Nico de Boinville 5/1 2 Un de Sceaux (FR) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Ruby Walsh 4/6 Fav 3 Special Tiara Henry de Bromhead, Ireland 11st 10lb Noel Fehily 16/1 4 God's Own (IRE) Tom George 11st 10lb Paddy Brennan 5 Somersby (IRE) (Sheepskin C/P) Mick Channon 11st 10lb Brian Hughes 6 Just Cameron (Tongue Strap) Micky Hammond 11st 10lb Joe Colliver 7 Dodging Bullets (Tongue Strap) Paul Nicholls 11st 10lb Sam Twiston-Davies 8 Sire de Grugy (FR) Gary Moore 11st 10lb Jamie Moore PU Felix Yonger (IRE) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Paul Townend PU Sizing Granite (IRE) Colm Murphy, Ireland 11st 10lb Johnny Burke
55th win at The Festival for trainer Nicky Henderson - most successful trainer of all-time at The Festival 4th win at The Festival for jockey Nico de Boinville BetBright Cup latest - GREAT BRITAIN - 6; IRELAND - 5
Sprinter Sacre previously won the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2013.
Becomes only the second horse to regain the prize, following Moscow Flyer (winner in 2003 & 2005)
Sprinter Sacre has won at three Festivals in total, as he also took the Racing Post Arkle in 2012.
Synopsis - Nicky Henderson is the all-time leading trainer at The Festival with 55 successes. He has won the Jump trainers' championship three times - 1985/86, 1986/87 and 2012/2013.
Winner of The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at The Festival: 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1993, 2000, 2010, 2012
Born - Lambeth, London, on December 10, 1950
Background - The son of financier and amateur jockey John Henderson MBE, who founded Racecourse Holdings Trust, the forerunner for Jockey Club Racecourses, he was educated at Eton and the Royal Agricultural College. He worked for stockbrokers Cazenove in London and Australia, where he gained experience riding work at Randwick, before devoting himself full-time to racing.
Henderson first made his name in Britain as an amateur rider, finishing runner-up three times in the non-professional championship. His main wins as a jockey came on Happy Warrior in the 1977 Fox Hunters Chase at Aintree and on Acquaint in Sandown's Imperial Cup in the same year. Henderson recorded his 78th and final win on Rolls Rambler in the Horse & Hound Cup at Stratford in June, 1978.
He became assistant trainer to Fred Winter in 1974 and received his own training licence in July, 1978, taking over from Roger Charlton at Windsor House Stables in Lambourn, Berkshire. He moved to Seven Barrows, to the north of the village, in 1992, after swapping yards with Peter Walwyn.
One of Britain's leading Jump trainers, Henderson has sent out over 2,500 winners and been at the top of his profession since 1985. His unprecedented tally at The Festival includes a joint record five Stan James Champion Hurdles, six JCB Triumph Hurdles, five Racing Post Arkle Chases, two Timico Cheltenham Gold Cups, four Betway Queen Mother Champion Chases, two Ryanair World Hurdles and two Ryanair Chases.
First Winner As A Trainer - Dukery at Uttoxeter, October 14, 1978.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival. It is the championship event for two mile chasers and the roll of honour includes the very best of these including multiple winners Badsworth Boy, Master Minded, Moscow Flyer, Viking Flagship, Barnbrook Again, Hillway, Skymas and Fortria.
The 2016 renewal looks the most exciting for some time with Arkle winner Un De Sceaux set to clash with the alst three winners, Dodging Bullets, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy
Queen Mother Champion Chase 2016 entries
Queen Mother Champion Chase Stats
Barry Geraghty is the most successful current jockey with 5 race wins
Paul Nicholls is the most successful current trainer with 5 wins
Sprinter Sacre in 2013 was the first 7 year old to win since Azertyuiop in 2004
Dodging Bullets was 7 when winning in 2015
Since Badsworth Boy won his third title in 1986 just 3 horses aged 10 or more have won
Just two horses - Skymas and Moscow Flyer have won the race aged 11 or more
The last 14 Arkle Trophy winners to run in the race at the following festival have all won or placed
19 of the last 31 winners had previously been successful at the Festival
The Tingle Creek won by Sire De Grugy in 2015 is the best guide with 11 of the last 16 winners contesting the race
The 10 Tingle Creek winners who have run have finished U1F61P82111
The last 11 winners had their prep race between 32 and 53 days beforehand
The last 10 winners contested the Tied Cottage, Clarence House or Game Spirit as their prep
8 of the last 11 winners won a graded chase last time out
Finians Rainbow has been the only winner in the last decade not to have had at least 8 chase runs
Fate of the Favourite: U1FF2148211P
Market Position of Winner: 216321452113 ( just one winner over 11/1 since 1972)
Queen Mother Champion Chase Winners 2006-2015
Queen Mother Champion Chase Trivia
Pat Taaffe and Barry Geraghty are the winning most jockeys since 1945 with 5 wins. Taaffes came on Fortria (1960, 1961), Ben Stack (1964), Flyingbolt (1966), Straight Fort (1970)). Geraghty has on the race on Moscow Flyer (2003,2005), Big Zeb (2010), Finians Rainbow (2012) and Sprinter Sacre (2013).
Tom Dreaper holds the trainers record for most wins with 6 between 1960 and 1970
Badsworth Boy (1983-85) is the only three-time scorer.
There are many double winners: Fortria (1960 and 1961), Drinny's Double (1967 and 1968), Royal Relief (1972 and 1974), Skymas (1976 and 1977), Hilly Way (1978 and 1979), Pearlyman (1987 and 1988), Barnbrook Again (1989 and 1990), Viking Flagship (1994 and 1995), Moscow Flyer (2003 and 2005) and Master Minded (2008 and 2009).
Flyingbolt was the shortest-priced winner when succeeding at 1/5 in 1966. Sprinter Sacre won at 1/4 in 2013.
Another Dolly, who was awarded the 1980 race at odds of 33/1, provided the biggest upset.
The one grey to succeed was One Man in 1998.
The 1986 winner Buck House subsequently met with that season's Cheltenham Gold Cup heroine Dawn Run in a special match race over two miles at Punchestown in April the same year. Dawn Run prevailed by two and a half lengths.
The Racing Post Arkle Chase is a good guide for future success in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase. Sizing Europe (2011), Voy Por Ustedes (2007), Azertyuiop (2004), Moscow Flyer (2003 and 2005), Flagship Uberalles (2002), Klairon Davis (1996) and Remittance Man (1992) all won the novices' event before their Sportingbet Queen Mother
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