TRAINER Nicky Henderson has his fingers crossed that Sprinter Sacre’s class will see him handle what are likely to be difficult ground conditions at Cheltenham today.
The brilliant two-miler is long odds-on to extend his unbeaten run over fences to eight when he takes on just six rivals in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase.
But the second day of the Cheltenham Festival is under threat from the cold snap, with covers on overnight and a precautionary inspection called for 8am. Overnight temperatures were forecast to get as low as minus 5C before rising to 4C in the afternoon.
Henderson has reason to believe Sprinter Sacre will be fine whatever the going as he won his last race at Cheltenham on heavy ground in January.
“It’s not ideal, but I just hope his ability sees him through,” said the Seven Barrows trainer.
Sprinter Sacre has been a skinny price since the ante-post book was opened. Understandably, Henderson knows the nation expects Sprinter Sacre to deliver.
“The pressure is on because everybody will expect one of his flashy performances and I hope he can deliver again,” he said. “He finds it ridiculously easy, but Cheltenham is Cheltenham and the course takes plenty of jumping. He is a hugely talented natural athlete and is one of the best work horses I have ever had.”
The opposition is headed by Sizing Europe. Like Sprinter Sacre, a past winner of the Arkle Trophy, he won this race in 2011 and was narrowly beaten by the Henderson-trained Finian’s Rainbow 12 months ago.
It was Sizing Europe’s proven ability over the course and distance that persuaded connections to have a third crack at this race, instead of going for the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.
“He seems in good form, he travelled over well and we’re hoping for a good run,” said trainer Henry de Bromhead. “The ground had a bit to do with us going for the Queen Mother rather than the Ryanair but we think we are pretty good over the course and distance.”
While a lot of trainers decided not to take on Sprinter Sacre, Tom George took the plunge and supplemented Mail De Bievre at the confirmation stage.
The French-bred eight-year-old showed plenty of pace on his British debut in the Denman Chase before fading into fifth place behind Gold Cup fancy Silviniaco Conti at Newbury.
“He’s come on a lot since Newbury. He’s very sharp and I’m looking forward to him running,” said the Slad handler.
Philip Hobbs is under no illusions about the task facing Wishfull Thinking. He said: “Sprinter Sacre looks like he ought to certainly win. If we get some place money I’ll be pleased.”
Goulanes may only have one start over fences under his belt, but he can defy his inexperience and claim gold in the RSA Chase.
David Pipe has taken a brave route in pitching this seven-year-old into what is one of the toughest tests of the novice season, but Goulanes has much to recommend his chances.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ The New One will take some beating in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
After wowing during the first part of the season, the five-year-old was surprisingly beaten by At Fishers Cross on Trials Day, but his rider perhaps made use of his devastating kick a little early and he was worn down near the line. Ridden with more restraint, this exciting prospect should be very much involved.
Buddy Bolero is the choice in the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase for trainer David Pipe. He has won both his starts to date this term and while he is taking a massive step up in trip to four miles, he has looked a thorough stayer in the past.
The remaining events on the card have a lottery look about them. There is sure to be money for Fiveforthree, representing Festival specialist Willie Mullins in the Coral Cup. In the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, the vibes about Regal Encore have been positive and, in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, a lively outsider could be South South West.