Sprinter Sacre digs deep to win Desert Orchid Chase
Sprinter Sacre got the better of Sire De Grugy to clinch the williamhill.com Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.
Pulled up in this race two years ago and subsequently diagnosed with a fibrillating heart, it has been a long road back for Sprinter Sacre, but having looked back to his best when winning at Cheltenham last month, Nicky Henderson's pride and joy was the 8-11 favourite under Nico de Boinville.
The Gary Moore-trained Sire De Grugy, like Sprinter Sacre a former winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, was similarly resurgent in the Tingle Creek at Sandown three weeks ago and was next best in the market at 11-4.
Jamie Moore looked to make a deliberate effort to stretch the field by sending Sire De Grugy to the lead leaving the back straight, but De Boinville covered the move and swiftly allowed his mount to move ominously alongside.
Sprinter Sacre looked to be going the better after jumping the third fence from the finish, but Sire De Grugy would not go down without a fight and maintained a small advantage approaching the last.
However, Sprinter Sacre produced a prodigious leap just when he needed one and after landing running, he galloped to the line to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
De Boinville said: "It was a very gutsy performance. We were spot on at the last and Jamie just missed it. He's a great horse.
"I'd say we were a bit below the Cheltenham run, but still he showed he's got heart as well as class.
"Every day this horse runs and puts up good performance like that we feel blessed that we are here in one piece and running good races.
"For any jockey this is why we do it, it was a tremendous race to be in. We know Sire De Grugy is a good horse in his own right, it was a great race."
Earlier, Ar Mad produced a tremendously game display to deny hot favourite Vaniteux in a pulsating climax to the williamhill.com Novices' Chase at Kempton.
Gary Moore's Ar Mad was a 5-2 chance in the hands of the trainer's son, Josh, following a scintillating front-running display in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices' Chase at
Sandown at the start of the month, with the Nicky Henderson-trained Vaniteux the 10-11 market leader to follow up an impressive chasing debut over the course and distance.
It was nearly all over for favourite-backers at the very first fence as Vaniteux badly fluffed his lines, but Nico de Boinville managed to sit tight and his jumping was far more assured for the rest of the race.
Ar Mad jumped brilliantly out in front, constantly putting pressure on his opponents.
Vaniteux managed to keep tabs on him, however, and looked like coming out on top after hitting the front in the straight.
But Ar Mad roared back tenaciously on the run to the final fence and after producing the quicker leap, he got back up to take the Grade Two prize, better known as the Wayward Lad, by a neck.
Moore said: "I'd say the track was too sharp for him and the ground was probably quick enough as well, so he's done well to win.
"I was amazed that he got back up and beat him (Vaniteux) but it shows what a big heart he's got."
After Sandown, Moore had been keen to rule out an Arkle bid at Cheltenham, with Ar Mad having been beaten when going left-handed on his chasing bow at Plumpton.
But a reassessment looks like being on the cards.
The trainer added: "It (Arkle) is something that we are going to have to try. It's the obvious race for him.
"Whether we go straight there, I don't know - we'll see what options are open to him.
"He's had three quick races now so we'll probably give him a break now."
Henderson hinted that Vaniteux might have been a gallop short.
He said: "I think there's a bit of improvement in him somewhere, but where do you go with a novice chaser when there are only about five suitable races before the Festival?
"He kept at it well, and is broken but not unbowed."