Sire’s fine audition to be Sprinter’s understudy

Steve Hughes continues his look ahead to the Cheltenham Festival with some pointers from the weekend’s racing including the promising Sire de Grugy.

There were good cards over the weekend at both Aintree and Chepstow, and whilst nothing screamed Festival banker at this early stage, two horses stood out as ones to watch come March.

Sire de Grugy went off a surprisingly backable price for what looked a 2m handicap chase lacking in depth for a Class 2, suggesting trainer Gary Moore had left plenty to work on for his seasonal debut.  Whether he did or not, there was no doubting the class of the 7yo who defied a rating of 161 to beat Majala by a long looking 11l.  Of course that still leaves him plenty to find with the 188 rated superstar Sprinter Sacre, but it has to be said the 2m division is looking weak beyond the reigning champion.

With Sizing Europe, Sprinter’s only challenger last year, getting on a bit now, we need to look at the new guard coming through.  However Simonsig not only comes from the same Nicky Henderson stable, so perhaps may be aimed at other targets, but news came through last week that the grey had met with a setback meaning we won’t be seeing him until after Christmas.  Next in the market are Cue Card and Flemenstar, both arguably better over further than 2m.  That means that Sire de Grugy (25/1 with Totesport and Betfred) rates decent each-way value at this early stage.

There were several “talking horses” appearing in novice contests and the one that impressed me most was Shutthefrontdoor despite his admittedly narrow win at Aintree over recent winner Beeves.  Apart from one mistake five out (which won’t do him any harm in the long term), his jumping was sound and a sharp 2m4f was as short a test as he would like.

Jonjo O’Neill 6yo has met with defeat on just two out of nine occasions to date, and gained some valuable Festival experience with a fair fourth place in the Pertemps Final last season.  Rated 146 over hurdles, he is likely to be weighted out of the handicap route, so given his proven stamina over 3m, the RSA Chase looks his most likely target.  Coral have him as the biggest price at this stage (25/1) which looks fair, although we are of course yet to see the majority of the protagonists in that division over either side of the Irish Sea.


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