03/11/2013 11:35AM

Cheltenham: Sprinter Sacre the heavy favorite in Queen Mother Champion Chase


CHELTENHAM, England – Sprinter Sacre, a 7-year-old French-bred gelding, has been so dominant in two-mile steeplechases in England this year that he has been quoted at odds of just 2-5 for more than a month in the future book for Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham Racecourse.

He was down to 1-5 with some bookmakers Monday. Of course, there is no value in that price, but there is plenty to admire in Sprinter Sacre.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, Sprinter Sacre has won seven races over fences by a combined 95 lengths, often stalking the pace for the first mile before taking the lead and drawing off. He won a prep race at Cheltenham, the Victor Chandler Chase, on Jan. 26 in that style, prevailing by 14 lengths.

“The pressure is on because everybody will expect one of his flashy performances,” Henderson said during a press day at his Berkshire stable in February. “I hope he can deliver again.

“He is a hugely talented natural athlete.”

Sprinter Sacre has won twice at Cheltenham, including the Arkle Chase at this time last year.

Sprinter Sacre is part of what understandably is a small field of seven in the $525,000 Queen Mother Champion Chase, the leading race on the second day of the four-day National Hunt festival.

The opposition includes Sizing Europe, an 11-year-old who won the 2011 Queen Mother Champion Chase and was second in 2012. Sizing Europe was considered for Thursday’s Ryanair Chase before trainer Henry De Bromhead opted for the Queen Mother on Sunday evening.

Somersby and Sanctuaire, third and fourth behind Sprinter Sacre in the Victor Chandler Chase, also start in the Queen Mother.

The four days of racing, which conclude Friday with the Cheltenham Gold Cup program, are the highlight of the steeplechase season in England.

The weather is not cooperating. Temperatures dropped below freezing overnight Sunday and were in the 30s for most of Monday amidst occasional snow flurries. To prevent frost from getting into the ground, 65 acres of tarps were spread over the hurdle and chase courses, which are 1 1/2 miles in circumference.

On Monday, the tracks looked more like the infield of a baseball diamond than a racetrack.