Sprinter leaves Kempton in a spin
A potentially mouthwatering clash between Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy in the William Hill Desert Orchid Chase at the end of this month could see the race added to the Boxing Day programme at Kempton Park.
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The Grade Two contest, staged at Kempton since 2006 having previously been run as the Castleford Chase at Wetherby, appears increasingly set to feature a match-up between the most famous steeplechaser in training and the horse who has a legitmate claim to be considered the most likely horse to end Sprinter Sacre's unbeaten record over fences in the light of his impressive Tingle Creek Chase victory at Sandon on Saturday.
Kempton clerk of the course Barney Clifford admitted to already having researched the difference that Sprinter Sacre's presence had made to attendance figures at Punchestown in April and said he hoped that the super steeplechaser could put an additional crowd of 3,000 on the gate.
However, the equation is complicated as to whether the two-mile race could be moved, as racecourse general manager Phil White told Sportinglife.com.
"If Channel Four are able to provide coverage, our first choice would obviously be for him to run on the 27th," he said.
"We've invested more in prize-money in the second day of the meeting and this would be a brilliant way to cement it as a Festival meeting.
"If that can't happen, I'd say that at this stage we're open-minded.
"One of the things we would need to look at if we did move the race to the Boxing Day card would be what we could switch to the 27th to balance the cards out - it's a two-day Festival and that's a message we really want to get across, but we would need to look at what was right for us, for our racegoers and for racing overall.
"There's some way to go before we make any decisions."
Channel 4 Racing presenter Nick Luck also said that if it did not prove possible to show racing from Kempton on the 27th, he'd be in favour of including the race on the Boxing Day programme.
"Editorially, I think there is a very strong case for it," he said. "We've just spent the weekend hailing Sire De Grugy and this would give us a great opportunity to keep that story going by weighing him up against Sprinter Sacre.
"We are already broadcasting on Boxing Day, on the Saturday with the Challow Hurdle from Newbury and the Welsh National at Chepstow, and then again on New Year's Day at Cheltenham and Musselburgh.
"Of course, it's a decision that is going to need a lot of discussion and it will be up to the sponsors, to the racecourse, to Racecourse Media Group, the British Horseracing Authority all to be happy with whatever is decided."
William Hill PR director Kate Miller described the prospect of the race not being available to the biggest possible audience as "a travesty".
"He is the highest-profile horse in racing and any race in which he is involved should be seen by the most people possible," she said.
There of course remains a risk that changes made to the race programme will ultimately prove a waste of time if Sprinter Sacre fails to line up, but trainer Nicky Henderson's assistant Charlie Morlock on Monday said that the seven-year-old's participation appeared increasingly likely despite a dirty tracheal wash forcing him to miss the first possible clash with Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek.
"The Kempton race would be ideal," he said. "It was only a little problem that he had, no more than a snuffly nose.
"Obviously last week we couldn't treat it when we thought he might still run, other than giving him plenty of fresh air, but now he's receiving treatment.
"He is sort of public property now and while we could maybe have run, if we'd taken a risk and run and it hadn't paid off, we'd have looked very silly.
"Timewise Kempton looks just right for him now."
Morlock said that the suggestion that Sprinter Sacre had been a little slow to come to hand this season until picking up speed and impressing in the last couple of weeks was "a fair assessment".
"His work most recently had been magnificent and we were all devastated when he didn't run," Morlock went on.
"He was ticking over, doing what we'd wanted him to without really doing anything more, but then he really started to fly.
"I think he'll be fine for Kempton. He's not the sort of horse who will take a huge lot out of himself."