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Sprinter Sacre ruled out of Cheltenham festival

Just two days after an up-beat bulletin about reigning two-mile Champion Chaser Sprinter Sacre, Nicky Henderson has decided abandon plans to run at this year’s festival meeting. The gelding suffered his first defeat over fences when pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in December.

He has since been under constant scrutiny for an irregular heartbeat but hopes that he would be able to run on March 13th have been dashed. The gelding worked with Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D’Alene on Saturday but failed to convince Henderson that he was back to his best.

The Lambourn trainer explained that, whilst the work was “all right”, it was not as impressive as he would have expected from Sprinter Sacre and lacked the “brilliance” of last season. He stressed that the heart readings were fine and there is no physical problem with the horse.

However, after discussions with the owners, it was agreed that it would be prudent to miss Cheltenham this year and aim to bring him back next season. Sprinter Sacre destroyed the opposition last year to win by 19-lengths and had been odds-on favourite to follow up this year.

The absence of Sprinter Sacre will leave Sire De Grugy as one of the shortest favourites of the meeting after three successive victories this season. Trainer Gary Moore had originally been considering missing Cheltenham as the course does not seem to bring out the best in his popular chestnut.

Doubts over the participation of the favourite forced him to reconsider and Sire De Grugy now goes to the festival with a leading chance. He was particularly impressive when storming to an 11-length victory in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot last month.

Henderson is likely to be represented by Captain Conan and Kid Cassidy while the Irish challenge is headed by Arvika Ligeonniere and Benefficient. Al Ferof could also come back into the reckoning after failing to stay in the Denman Chase at Newbury last time out.