Horse Racing: Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase
Saturday December 8
Channel 4 3.05pm
Not since the days of Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop has the two-mile chasing division had a rivalry to genuinely capture the imagination, to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up with pure excitement.
But that may all be about to change, as this Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown brings together the two most exciting young chasers in horse racing: Sprinter Sacre and Sanctuaire.
The two six-year-old French-breds were foaled just three weeks apart in the spring of 2006 – with Sprinter Sacre the older of the two – but their respective journeys to the top of the novice chasing ranks last season were very different. Sprinter Sacre (picture 1) was switched to fences after a brief but high-class career over hurdles, his trainer Nicky Henderson always convinced he would develop into something very special over the bigger obstacles. And he was right – Sprinter won five from five over fences as a novice, most notably soaring to a breathtaking victory in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham in March.
Henderson likens him to a ‘big, black aeroplane’, such is his combination of power and speed, while regular pilot Barry Geraghty told this very magazine that he is the best horse he has ridden since... yes, Moscow Flyer.
By contrast, Sanctuaire (picture 2) began his career over fences as a horse that had promised much but failed to deliver over hurdles. A former Cheltenham Festival winner, he was proving a frustrating beast who either didn’t want to start his races or pulled too hard if he did get going. So trainer Paul Nicholls, who knows something about training top-class chasers, gave him a crack over the bigger obstacles – and his charge proved a revelation, displaying great speed and an exuberant jumping style on his way to three stunning wins in the new year.
The last two of those just happened to be on the idiosyncratic Sandown course – a track on which his big opponent this weekend has never raced.
Such is the background to what could prove a thrilling duel on Saturday. Sprinter Sacre is the higher-rated horse and will start favourite, but Nicholls has won this race six times in the past seven years (two wins each for Kauto Star, Twist Magic and Master Minded) and will have Sanctuaire fully wound up to put Sprinter Sacre’s to-date impeccable jumping under as much pressure as possible. It could be a classic.