The year had started with England retaining the Ashes down under. On the Flat, Frankel had stormed to victory in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. A young boxer named Anthony Joshua had announced himself as a kid with a bright future when winning a silver medal in the World Amateur Championships. And Novak Djokovic lifted the US Open crown at Flushing Meadows. Some things never change.
It had been a hell of a year in sport when the winter of 2011 arrived. And during the King George meeting at Kempton unparalleled success went the way of one of the major forces in Jump racing. Nicky Henderson had a stack of quality horses at his disposal, and the master of Seven Barrows gobbled up a host of major prizes.
The Christmas Hurdle has often proved to be a thriller, and this one was no exception. The Champion hurdler of 2010, Binocular, managed to see off the future Champion Rock On Ruby in rip-roaring finish.
The ever gutsy Overturn had set off like a scolded cat, and turning for home had the two leading protagonists attacking on either flank. With AP driving for all his worth on Henderson’s champ, and Ruby Walsh aboard the future King, the pair approached the last locked in battle. In a pulsating finish it was Binocular that found a little more to claim victory.
Just half an hour earlier Bobs Worth had found both Grands Crus and Silviniaco Conti a little too nifty for him in the Feltham Novices’ Chase. The winner failed to build on the stunning success, whilst Silviniaco fell in love with the course. Bobs Worth was to find Cheltenham more to his liking when a few months later he took the RSA Chase. A year on and he was to have his finest hour, when successful in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Henderson had a double on the day with novice hurdler Tetlami adding to the Binocular win. One that just got away was the King George itself, when the reigning Gold Cup winner Long Run failed to change the course of history. Kauto Star’s date with destiny and an incredible fifth success in the race prevented Long Run from making it back to back victories. One of the all-time greats was in the twilight of his career, yet just 24 hours later a new superstar would announce his arrival.
The following day Henderson was not to be denied when a stunning treble included wins for Finian’s Rainbow and rather fittingly the mighty Sprinter Sacre. The former took a cracking Desert Orchid Chase, getting the better of Wishfull Thinking in the shadow of the post. In March he was to win a dramatic Champion Chase at The Festival.
For Sprinter Sacre, things were just a little more straightforward. Only three went to post in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, with Peddlers Cross the odds on favourite. However, the former Champion Hurdle runner-up failed to land a blow, with Henderson’s gorgeous chaser simply scintillating. Occasionally looks are not deceiving. Sprinter Sacre had all the physical attributes necessary to become one of the great chasers. And so it proved.
The Seven Barrows handler has a terrific record with his young chasers in the Wayward Lad at Christmas. He’s turned out seven winners since 2000, including Simonsig in 2012. He relies on Vaniteux this time round, the horse having already won at the track on his chasing debut. He was mightily impressive that day, and many, me included, will be hoping to see another exciting performance on Sunday.
It could prove a thrilling day for Henderson, with Sprinter Sacre set to run in the Desert Orchid just half an hour later. The nine-year-old may well clash with Gary Moore’s former Champion Sire De Grugy. The former looked something like his old self when sauntering to victory in the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham, whilst Moore’s fella brought the house down with his success in the Tingle Creek.
Kempton 2011 proved momentous for Henderson and his team. But he’ll be more than ‘ho ho hopeful’ that this Christmas can deliver a Santa sack full of success.