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Camilla Henderson: We’ll all have our hearts in our mouths until Sprinter Sacre comes back safely at Ascot

The two-mile chase king returns to the racecourse for the first time since being pulled up with an irregular heartbeat at Kempton 13 months ago

by Camilla Henderson | January 16, 2015

Sprinter Sacre’s return to racing has been a worrying time for my father Nicky (below) with many sleepless nights as he has to cope with media expectations, public opinion, continuous speculations, ongoing discussions and debates. Everyone is talking about Sprinter and we all want to see him back to his very best. He’s a superstar so all the expectation certainly adds to the pressure.

Dad will need an ECG monitor after this weekend.

A great team effort has been made by all at Seven Barrows to get him back to the track and it’s massive thanks to each and every one of them to have made it all possible. Horses are not machines and it’s often a game of patience with their progress.

We can’t expect immediate miracles after quite a seriously distressing time for Sprinter Sacre but the schooling session at Newbury last month proved he was feeling well and back to his spritely self.


Put your foot down

There were a few heart-in-mouth moments when he came up out of regular rider’s Barry Geraghty’s hands a couple of meters away from the fence, causing him to sweep through and take some of the obstacle with him. It wasn’t ideal but Barry said this wasn’t a silly jumping error but showed Sprinter was fresh and excited on his first public outing in 13 months since pulling up at Kempton with an irregular heartbeat in December 2013.

Dr Celia Marr is the equine Cardiac specialist who has been monitoring Sprinter’s progress since then. She was concerned that experience at Kempton would have been pretty unpleasant and suggested we mimic a race-day outing to get him past that ‘comfort zone’ threshold.

The aim was to get him to the point where he has to put his foot down a little – testing the waters to see how he responds.

This was as much a test for physical fitness but more importantly to see how he would cope mentally. It gave him an opportunity to realise that nothing bad was going to happen, and come out of it with a positive experience.

Sprinter Sacre

All systems go

That essential preparation should have hopefully eliminated any negative scars – setting him up nicely to go out with a positive mindset in the Clarence House chase at Ascot on Saturday (3pm).

The track had 10mm of rain last Wednesday night and the final decision on his participation will be made on Saturday morning.

As it stands the ground will be, or should be ,suitable as long as we don’t get too much more rain or frost into it between now and then we are all hoping that not too much will change overnight and that it will be systems go.

It has been a long journey getting Sprinter back to full health since December 27, 2013, where he was quickly pulled up by Barry after not feeling right. He has not completed a race since his win at Punchestown in April 2013 which seems a lifetime ago.

After an immediate vet check back then he was found to have an ‘atrial fibrillation heart beat’. This is something that is quite common in racehorses (and also middle-aged men too!). Tony Blair and Sir Alex Ferguson (below) are a few names among others who have experienced this condition.


Heart of a champion

If it is picked up early, examined and monitored through gentle progressive work, often the heart should respond and recover back to normal. Sprinter Sacre’s first pieces of work and schooling sessions at Seven Barrows were monitored with ECG devices.

According to Dr Lesley Young, a large heart can make a horse more prone to conditions such as atrial fibrillation. A number of great Flat racehorses, most famously Eclipse, Phar Lap and Secretariat, had abnormally large hearts, at 22lbs.

Secretariat’s was more than twice the average size. Often this is the case where the better the horse is, especially in National Hunt racing, the bigger the heart is likely to be.

The experts suggest this could certainty be the case with Sprinter Sacre. Our only wish foremost would be for Sprinter to obviously be back to his normal self on the track, to enjoy it and to come home safe and sound. Anything else is a bonus.

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