Champion trainer Nicky Henderson will head to Cheltenham Racecourse on New Year’s Day buoyed by positive news about two of his best horses.
Racing superstar Sprinter Sacre could race again this season after overcoming a heart problem, while Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth got his career back on track with a comfortable victory in Ireland.
Henderson sent Sprinter Sacre for tests after he suffered his first defeat in 11 races over fences at Kempton on Friday when he was sensationally pulled up by Barry Geraghty.
After the race, the two-time Cheltenham Festival winner, owned by Raymond and Caroline Mould from Gloucestershire, was found to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
Sprinter Sacre returned to Henderson’s Seven Barrows base on Friday night but was later sent to Newmarket for assessment by Celia Marr, a specialist in equine internal medicine and cardiology.
Marr confirmed the original diagnosis of atrial fibrillation and decided to give the horse some time to see if his heartbeat regulated itself, which Henderson reported it had done.
“The good thing is the fact it has self-righted means we don’t have to go into the process of using any drugs,” said Henderson.
“Quinidine is the normal solution for this kind of problem but it’s a risky drug and it’s good news we don’t have to go down that route.
“The important thing is that it is only a very recent onset (of the problem). Barry was so quick in picking up something was wrong and in pulling him up at Kempton.”
Henderson revealed further tests on Sprinter Sacre were planned for later this week and he hadn’t ruled out him racing again this season. “We’re talking about cantering him again on Friday so you wouldn’t rule out training him again this season,” he said.
“It’s got to be a step at a time with him and we will obviously know more in the coming weeks as he is back in light exercise and we will continue to monitor him.”
Henderson will take his time before deciding a definite route back to the Festival for Bobs Worth.
The eight-year-old won the Gold Cup last term but had finished only sixth in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on his return last month.
However, he returned to form in style with victory in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on Saturday.
“It was just wonderful to see him back on winning form,” Henderson said.
“I would have thought that (not to run again before Cheltenham) would be my gut instinct, but we will have to see how he is in 10 days’ time.”
Meanwhile, two-time Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly gained his 18th Grade One win in a star-studded Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown yesterday.
He lowered the colours of Our Conor and Jezki, two of Ireland’s leading hurdlers, with another ruthless display under Ruby Walsh.
He jumped the last hurdle just behind Our Conor, who along with Captain Cee Bee had earlier squeezed Jezki for room approaching the final flight.
Whereas Our Conor did not have much more to give, Jezki stayed on stoutly for AP McCoy, but Hurricane Fly powered clear to win by two and a half lengths.
Winning trainer Willie Mullins said Hurricane Fly would run next in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 26, before attempting to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham for a third time.
He added: “He’s a fantastic horse and a horse of a generation.”