GARY Moore hopes the fact Sire De Grugy has had no interruptions between Cheltenham and Aintree can help his stable star get back to winning ways in the Betfred Melling Chase today.
One of the most popular horses in training, Sire De Grugy finished fourth in defence of his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown last month.
However, his season had been delayed due to an early setback, and after unseating on his reappearance, Moore sent him to Chepstow less than two weeks before Cheltenham.
“He’s as good as he’s been all year – he’s at the top of his game at the moment,” said Moore.
“I just hope we get good to soft ground. The difference is he’s had an uninterrupted preparation since Cheltenham. I’ve had a clear run so far. In his demeanour he’s in a good place with himself.”
Jamie Moore, the West Sussex handler’s son and Sire De Grugy’s regular rider, suffered a broken leg last week so younger brother, Joshua, steps in.
“I’ve ridden him in work and I’ve schooled him,” said Joshua Moore. “It’s a shame Jamie isn’t there, but I do know the horse quite a bit anyway. I rode him at work last week and he went well. We’re happy with him.
“The circumstances aren’t what I’d like. It was Jamie’s bad luck, but hopefully it will be a good opportunity for me. I’m looking forward to it. He’s a previous Champion Chase winner and it’s a Grade One at Aintree.”
Champagne Fever missed the Queen Mother after he was bitten on the lip by stablemate Un Atout but is still favourite for the Melling. “He’s good and I’m looking forward to running him,” said trainer Willie Mullins. “He has the benefit of being a fresh horse having missed Cheltenham.”
Ruby Walsh hopes Champagne Fever can land a so-far elusive first Grade One over fences.
“Champagne Fever is in really good form and hopefully he’ll go and give a really good account of himself,” he said.
“It is a competitive race with the likes of Balder Succes, Don Cossack and Sire De Grugy mind.
“Missing Cheltenham is just one of those things – we can’t change that now. That sort of thing happens, and hopefully he’ll be luckier this time. He is yet to win at Grade One level over fences, but let’s hope he can step up to the plate on Friday.”
Jonjo O’Neill’s Johns Spirit has progressed out of handicaps and ran well for a long way in the King George over three miles before his stamina gave way and subsequently finished fifth in the Ryanair at Cheltenham.
“Johns Spirit is going to have a crack at the Melling as there’s not much more for him to go at, really,” said O’Neill. “On form, he is not good enough but you have to have a crack and see what the handicapper will do with him. He could go back handicapping if he’s not good enough.
“He is in great spirits and won’t let us down, hopefully.” Simply Ned was second to Balder Succes at this meeting 12 months ago and has continued to improve this season, finishing a fair fifth in the Queen Mother.
“He ran a decent race in the Queen Mother Champion Chase,” said trainer Nicky Richards. “He hit the fourth-last fence, and that put paid to things a little bit, but he still finished well up the hill. He ran respectably and is very consistent, so we hope he can run another good race at Aintree.
“The step up to two and half miles might just give us another option heading into next season.
“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I would be fairly confident that he will stay two and a half miles around Aintree.”
Two horses not seen since the King George, Al Ferof and Cue Card, return after setbacks, while Don Cossack has the assistance of Tony McCoy for the first time.
In the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, Minella Rocco puts his unbeaten record on the line with his sternest test to date. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained five-year-old is pitched in at Grade One level on just his third outing in Britain, which will also be his first start over three miles under Rules.
After making a winning hurdling debut over two-miles-five-furlongs at Kempton in February, the JP McManus-owned gelding followed up later that month over the same trip at Newbury when dispatching his rivals with the minimum of fuss.
O’Neill said: “Minella Rocco is a big, nice, chasing-type of horse. He is a horse I am looking forward to really. They are the horses you look for each year to wing you along to the next season. They are the dream. He was very good at Newbury, it was not the strongest of races but you can only beat what is in front of you. He is in good form at the moment and I’d say three miles around Aintree would be fine as it is an easy track.”