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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Four inspirational racing stories of triumphs against all the odds

Sprinter Sacre after winning his second Queen Mother Champion Chase
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After dominating his sport for years, scandal and injury consigned Tiger Woods to the golfing wilderness, but he rolled back the years on Sunday to win the Tour Championship in what is being hailed one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. In honour of the legendary golfer's inspirational return from the brink, we recall four of racing's best comeback stories.

Sprinter Sacre

Nicky Henderson's chaser completed an extraordinary comeback when he recaptured the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2016 after a heart problem threatened to prematurely end his career. 

Three years earlier Sprinter Sacre had looked invincible, winning the Champion Chase as part of a ten-race winning streak, but in December 2013 the racing world was stunned after he was pulled up when 2-9 for the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton and found to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat.

The gelding returned to the track but his old imperious dominance appeared to have deserted him. It took two and a half years to record his first success in November 2015, before his Champion Chase victory the following March completed a miraculous return to the pinnacle of the sport.

“To come back and do that after all that time, it’s incredible,” Nicky Henderson said at the time. “The two years in the wilderness were dark days. This is completely different to where he was a couple of years ago."


Dubbed the Lazarus of racing, Edwulf was feared dead after pulling up in the 2017 National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and spending more than 40 minutes behind the green screens before getting back to his feet and being transported to equine hospital.

His return to the track at Leopardstown last December, when he was pulled up in the Christmas Chase, was testament to the treatment he received and recognised as an achievement in itself by trainer Joseph O'Brien. 

Edwulf (Derek O'Connor) winners of the Unibet Irish Gold Cup

But the following February, Edwulf once again defied the odds when running out a 33-1 winner of the Irish Gold Cup, just 11 months after he collapsed at Cheltenham. 

Sir Henry Cecil

In 2005 Sir Henry Cecil sent out just 12 winners and the following year he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The sporting public feared the training career of this great of the game was coming to a quiet, tragic close.

Sir Henry Cecil: came back from illness and enjoyed monumental success with Frankel

But in 2007 Cecil registered an eighth victory in the Oaks with Light Shift and Group 1 horses like Midday and Twice Over continued his resurgence before Cecil unearthed the horse of a lifetime in Frankel, whose electrifying 2,000 Guineas victory in 2011 was arguably the highlight of a sensational career.

Sir Henry died in June 2013, just eight months after Frankel finished his 14-race career unbeaten in the Champion Stakes. 

Bob Champion and Aldaniti

In 1979 jockey Bob Champion was diagnosed with testicular cancer and leading chaser Aldaniti suffered a leg injury that put his life in danger.

Aldaniti: inspiring winner of the 1981 Grand National

The fact man and horse both recovered at all is a heartwarming tale, but for the pair to win a Grand National together just two years later is little short of a miracle.

The 1981 Grand National triumph remains one of the greatest moments in the rich history of horseracing. Bob Champion wrote a book on the events called Champion’s Story which was then made into the film Champions, with John Hurt playing the comeback rider.

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To come back and do that after all that time, it’s incredible
E.W. Terms
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