‘Racehorses are not supposed to come back’ wrote Stuart Riley for the Racing Post yesterday ‘but then Sprinter is not a normal horse.’ These were the words that summed up the scintillating victory of Sprinter Sacre in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Prestbury Park yesterday. Nico de Boinville steered Sprinter home, beating favourite Un de Sceaux by three and a half lengths to the delight of the rapturous crowd whose Cheltenham roar, ‘took the roof off.’ Indeed Sprinter’s magical performance ensured ‘there was not a dry eye in the place.’
The victory marks the second milestone of Nico de Boinville’s career, building on his glorious Cheltenham Gold cup win aboard Coneygreen at last year’s festival. And indeed the victory provoked a wave of emotion to sweep over the crowds at Prestbury park leaving Willie Mullins, trainer of Un de Sceaux who missed out on the title by three and a half lengths to comment –
‘It would have been nice to have won but this was a winner for racing.’
Certainly, after ‘two years in the wilderness,’ by Henderson’s own admonitions, the story behind the pairing of Sprinter de Sacre and Nico de Boinville would struggle not to warm even the coolest of hearts. Nico’s relationship with Sprinter Sacre runs back to his formative years as a stable lad at Nicky Henderson’s yard at Seven Barrows, Nico speaks of his time there:
‘I started as a lowly amateur mucking out four horses a today, when you’re young and impatient, it’s a frustrating time.’
Sprinter arrived in Henderson’s yard as a raw three year old. Back in those days, Nico was ‘effectively keeping the saddle warm’ for Barry Geraghty who was the one steering him home on big race days. Perhaps back then, Nico wouldn’t have dreamed that one day, he’d be the one bringing Sprinter Sacre to claim first place in the champion chase. An emotional Nicky Henderson commented,
‘Nico deserves a lot of credit. He has been riding him all those years when Barry was on him, he deserves every accolade he can get.’
Indeed both horse and jockey have been met with sizeable hurdles during their careers which serves to highlight the magnitude of the win for Nico as an individual, for Sprinter, the ‘dethroned King,’ who came back against all odds after a fibrillating heart condition almost led to his retirement and for Henderson who counted yesterday’s success as ‘one of his best achievements.‘ Nico told reporters after the race, ‘I don’t think anything will ever mean as much to me as this.‘
Speaking to TNG prior to the race, Nico lent us an insight to the jockey’s world.
It’s an up and down lifestyle; we go through such intense highs and lows and a lot of emotional turmoil, half of it’s the mental side and we have to be very tough in that sphere.
These words are made all the more pertinent by the fact his victory comes just two weeks after after a family tragedy.
It is testament to Nico’s tenacity and focus as a jockey, that in the midst of family anguish, he is able to regroup and focus on getting the job done. And perhaps in line with his focus, Nico refuses to let his success rattle his humility. He is reluctant to take any of the limelight away from his mount and modestly attributes his success to luck.
‘I’ve been a very lucky boy from the word go – I’m lucky that from the moment I entered Seven Barrows, the governor allowed me to sit of this horse and now I’m allowed to take the reins of the track. I’m, purely a passenger on there.’
His unflappable nature is all part of Nico’s Champion package, unwilling to let the media circus or the significance of the event distract him from securing the goals he seeks to accomplish. When asked how he mentally prepares himself for a big race he candidly responds.
You go into the week as you would any other week, be relaxed as you can, there’s no point getting stressed about things, there’s a massive crowd out there, there’s loads of interviews, you have to just let it wash over you, just do your job and stay relaxed.
Having secured his second win of Cheltenham’s Holy Trinity of races, there is only the Champion Hurdle left to conquer. Roll on 2017.