The Lambourn Open Day had it all!
What a difference a year makes. In 2018, Lambourn’s popular Open Day, now staged with the support of the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Fund, was washed away due to the wettest of winters.
This time, however, it was all about sun, Sprinter and not quite Sangria, as Pimm’s seemed the most popular order at Freddie Tulloch’s Outside Chance bar.
Plenty of ice would have been required as Lambourn bathed in the most glorious of Good Friday temperatures.
That Sprinter, of course, is Mr Sacre, the iconic two-mile chaser with James Bond looks and a backstory synonymous with any hero.
The 2013 and 2016 Champion Chase winner was back ‘home’ at Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard, the equivalent of Mayfair on a Lambourn Open Day Monopoly board – and there would be plenty paying tax for stopping at his box.
“Oh my” gasps one woman as she catches her first glimpse of a horse Henderson will adore for eternity.
“Looks fantastic, doesn’t he?” another answers. “He always did,” comes a response.
Sprinter Sacre’s former groom Sarwar Mohammed authenticates that view. “He looks great,” he says. “I still miss him. I look after Divine Spear, O O Seven and Dickie Diver now, but there’s only one Sprinter.” You can say that again, or can you?
Altior, who has won the last two editions of the Champion Chase and is the apple of lad Robin Land’s eye, could be the Park Lane to Sprinter Sacre’s Mayfair, but that would be unfair to a horse Henderson would acknowledge is not in the drop-dead-gorgeous category but wouldn’t face slim pickings on Blind Date.
The pair meet on Henderson’s lawn, normally “sacred ground”, according to long-serving travelling head lad Richard Nicholas.
“I told you to keep everyone off it,” jokes the five-time champion trainer’s driver Neil Taylor.
If Easter is a time for forgiveness, Henderson doesn’t mind the turf being treaded as visitors vie for ‘that’ pic. “It’s the only time they’ll meet,” says Henderson, as Sprinter Sacre still looks the beau ideal.
So too does La Bague Au Roi, by far the most popular draw at Warren Greatrex’s Uplands base, where Henderson’s mentor Fred Winter used to train.
Greatrex’s assistant Olly Kozak reckons he has never known a busier open day, although he breaks off to discuss a possible sale of an unraced Westerner.
Mark Latham, from Bolton, hasn’t got any cash and worries if the afternoon events, attractions and refreshments on the showground will take contactless payments. But he’s in awe of what he’s seen.
“I’m a massive jumps fan and go to Cheltenham, but I’ve never been here,” says the 42-year-old, who works for a rail company and reckons he has snapped around 50 pictures on his camera.
It is unknown if he oversees any locomotives that go like Sprinter Sacre or Altior, but he adds: “I’ve been to the last 16 Cheltenham Festivals but had never come to this day before. I would recommend it to anyone.
“I thought it was now or never to come. The atmosphere, openness and friendliness of everyone has been amazing.”
It’s hard to know if ‘amazing’ covers legendary jockey Sir Anthony McCoy’s effort in the camel racing qualifiers later in the day.
“He went too fast and I caught him on the line,” says the recently retired Noel Fehily, whose claim might not be the most compelling as the 20-time champion jump jockey wins the finale.
“I was looking after my horse in the qualifiers,” says McCoy, not the only former Martin Pipe jockey present.
“I’ve signed four autographs,” says Hamdan Al Maktoum’s trainer Owen Burrows, once an amateur rider for Pipe. “Oh, I’ve signed six,” retorts the affable McCoy, but with that killer Sprinter Sacre glint in his eye.