Cheltenham: Moore eyes Sire to wire success

Sire De Grugy is in good fettle ahead of todays Queen Mother Champion Chase. Picture: GettySire De Grugy is in good fettle ahead of todays Queen Mother Champion Chase. Picture: Getty
Sire De Grugy is in good fettle ahead of todays Queen Mother Champion Chase. Picture: Getty
Nicky Henderson has a notion Sprinter Sacre may not be as brilliant as he was at his peak, but feels he could still good enough to reclaim his crown in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on day two of the Cheltenham Festival today.

Spectacular when taking the two-mile blue riband prize in 2013, Sprinter Sacre has had well-documented problems which kept him off the track for over a year. However, he showed he was no back number when beaten three lengths by this season’s revelation Dodging Bullets in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.

Sprinter Sacre’s preparation has gone smoothly since then and Henderson expects the nine-year-old to put up a good fight in a bid to emulate Royal Relief (1972 and 1974) and Moscow Flyer (2003 and 2005) and regain the title. “Sprinter Sacre is not the same as two years ago, but he is pretty good,” said the Seven Barrows handler. “I can honestly say we were satisfied with his run at Ascot, although it didn’t please everybody. When he was at his best he was unbeatable.

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“We have not got exactly the same horse, but he is in knocking distance of it. Nico [de Boinville] who rides him every day is optimistic. We want our crown back. Sire De Grugy has it and I’m sure the Moores want to keep it, but we want it back. Let’s hope the race lives up to the billing.”

Sire De Grugy has also had his troubles since powering to victory 12 months ago, but looked as good as ever when bolting up in a Chepstow handicap last month, just two weeks after unseating his rider on his return at Newbury. His trainer Gary Moore can see no reason why his stable star cannot improve again, and he could well be the horse they all have to beat.

“I think he has a serious chance and I just hope he gets luck in running like he did last year, which is all important in a race of that calibre,” said the West Sussex handler. “I can see there will be heaps of pace in the race, which will suit us. The faster they go, the better.

“Sire De Grugy had a very interrupted preparation before Newbury, and it was a miracle we got there after the setbacks that he had. He can only improve. The amount of people who want Sire De Grugy to do well is unbelievable. He has a massive following – people send cards and Polo mints.”

Champagne Fever is a two-time Festival winner but suffered a surprise defeat in last year’s Arkle Trophy. Trainer Willie Mullins felt the grey appreciated a change in tactics when winning at Gowran on his latest start. “I love the fact that we rode him differently the last day and he responded, jumped fantastic and loved it, “ said Mullins.

“That will put him in a good frame of mind going back to Cheltenham. We’ve taken his Cheltenham record into account – three runs, only beaten a short head once, all over the minimum trip. It probably takes a two-and-a-half-miler to win the Champion Chase anyway.”

Paul Nicholls has two progressive types in Dodging Bullets and Mr Mole, who have earned their places with a series of impressive displays this season. The Ditcheat handler said: “Dodging Bullets likes soft ground and I would not want it to dry up too much. He is a real staying two-miler. He has done well physically and visually since Ascot..”

Mr Mole took full advantage of Sire De Grugy’s exit to win the Game Spirit at Newbury.

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“He has a great chance in a very open Champion Chase, with the two heroes coming back and the improving horses coming on through, and he is one of them,” Nicholls said of Tony McCoy’s mount.

Northern hopes rest with Simply Ned, trained by Nicky Richards, whose late father Gordon sent out One Man to triumph in 1998.

In the RSA Chase, Kings Palace is napped to give the home contingent a winner and has the advantage of his first two victories over fences coming on this course.

The David Pipe-trained seven-year-old stretched his 100 per cent record over the bigger obstacles to three when just beating solitary rival Vivaldi Collonges by a length at Newbury after giving his supporters a scare with a blunder at the third last.

“Don Poli looks the main threat, but we’ll give it our best shot,” said Harry Drew, son of part-owner Bryan Drew. “There are a lot of good horses like The Young Master as well, but hopefully we can do them.”