Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)
Sire de Grugy continued his progression towards the steeplechasing top table with a display of determination in taking the GII Desert Orchid Chase, but it was with Sprinter Sacre with whom the headlines rested, as the Champion Chaser was pulled up at Kempton Park with a reported irregular heart beat. A racecourse which has often produced magical moments of sublime superiority, Kempton Park had become set to welcome back the crown jewel of British steeplechasing on Friday as his fans and followers came in their dozens to cheer on Nicky Henderson's Sprinter Sacre in his seasonal reappearance.
Sidelined by a minor injury hindrance in early December, Sprinter Sacre (pictured above) had been returning to the track later than planned, and his trainer Nicky Henderson had been open and honest in stating that he had been dreading his champion's return to action this week. However, there can be no doubting that despite the nervousness of his trainer, there was no real sense of belief that Sprinter Sacre could comprehensively be turned over in his seasonal reappearance - how wrong we were.
Seemingly struggling to jump with the exuberance that we have become accustomed to expect, Sprinter Sacre provided his thousands of followers with a visual shock as he began to drift back through the pack before a vocal confirmation shortly followed to detail that the heavily-favoured 2/9 favourite was indeed being pulled up.
With Sprinter Sacre sidelined on the back straight, Sire de Grugy and his jockey Jamie Moore were entrusted with the ultimate chance to continue their exceptional progression and fill the cavernous void that had been created in this race by taking up the mantle and claiming this race as his own. A strong and hardy performer that has taken up every opportunity this season and shirked away from no battle at all, Gary Moore's Sire de Grugy powered over the remaining fences with exuberance as he bounded to his third victory of this campaign in what has rapidly become a sensational year for the Moore family which begun with the exceptional international win haul created by Ryan in months gone by.
"I'm over the moon for the horse, but it's a shame we had to do it that way," said winning trainer, Gary Moore. "They went off fast, then the pacemaker dropped out, and he'd be better in a bigger field covered up - then you'd see his true potential. As far as I'm concerned Cheltenham [Festival] is not the be-all-and-end-all."
A vision of perfection in his ten previous starts over these obstacles, this was not the way that we had expected to see the stature of Sprinter Sacre relinquish his undefeated record, with the prospect of an eleventh consecutive victory seemingly inevitable.
Like Desert Orchid himself, Sprinter Sacre has blossomed over the larger chasing obstacles and had built up an exceptional tally of scintillating victories prior to today, in which his rivals have barely been able to keep up with the sheer dominant ability that this stunning thoroughbred quite clearly holds, yet it is in unfathomable circumstances that this undefeated record over these larger obstacles would come to an end.
The sight of Sprinter Sacre quietly ambling along the back stretch was not the sight that we had expected to see as we lined up in our dozens in anticipation of what we had hoped would be the great comeback of this fascinating French bred superstar, yet it would be fair to state that maybe we are guilty of the presumption of continual superiority without fully respecting the level of commitment which goes into producing it.
No sooner has one star passed us by, that we continually look for his or her replacement without fully appreciating the sheer magnitude of the achievements of the thoroughbred exiting to our right.
Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre are just a handful of the superb thoroughbreds which have graced the steeplechasing stratosphere with sublime superiority in recent years, and with each exceptional performance we can be forgiven for hoping and believing that these stars will indeed be around forever. However, in reality we must take into account that these spectacular specimens of equine perfection are not machines, they are animals that continue to produce spellbinding performances that we are blessed to enjoy.
Whether the legendary journey of Sprinter Sacre ends here is not confirmed, yet with tests set to be carried out over the coming days the future of Nicky Henderson's steeplechasing sensation looks set to become clearer sooner rather than later.
In the event that Sprinter Sacre does indeed return to the racetrack, it will be with an exceptional level of support from his army of fans, followers and friends as he bids to bounce back from defeat in a manner that Desert Orchid himself would be proud of.