Steve Hughes looks ahead to the big event on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival with the 2013 winner fancied.
It is fair to say that Sprinter Sacre’s comeback run divided opinion on Saturday. However I was impressed enough with his performance against the top performing 2m chaser of this season so far in Dodging Bullets, only going down by 3l on his first proper run for 21 months. Barry Geraghty was riding him just to get him home safely more than simply winning the race, but assuming he gets to Cheltenham safe and sound there will surely be a no holds barred ride this time.
Understandably a little rusty over the first few fences and plenty keen enough, he really warmed to his task on the rise from Swinley Bottom gaining lengths over his rivals at the last ditch, four out. Under normal circumstances Geraghty would have let his mount kick on from there to make use of that prodigious leap, but keen to hold on to him, he allowed Dodging Bullets to get first run and then found his mount lacking the energy to recover. Whilst he had clearly had plenty of work to get him back on the course, there is no substitute for a real race and he must surely come on for that. The raw materials are still in place for him to be substantially better than the opposition and whilst he might not reach the heights of 2013, he may not need to. Given his health issues, the fact we can go in non-runner no bet now takes that uncertainty out of the equation, should something go wrong before the day.
Sire De Grugy was the best of the rest without the former Champion last season, but he is not in the same league and a pelvic injury sustained before Christmas means he will just get the one prep run at Newbury in a couple of weeks, hardly an ideal lead into the big race. I am not convinced by Dodging Bullets, no better than fourth in any of the last three Festivals and a horse that is generally best in the autumn.
Of those at a bigger price, Uxizandre could be interesting if the race cuts up. A revelation when just touched off at a huge price in the JLT over 2m4f last season, he again produced a career best when taking the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at the track in November, soundly holding off the challenge of Dodging Bullets. He was disappointing on bad ground at Leopardstown over Christmas, but if he goes the 2m route at Cheltenham, there are no other horses at long odds that can boast his level of form and there is every chance he could gain the uncontested lead he needs to be at his best. Whilst he could simply set the race up for Sprinter Sacre, he looks worth a small each-way interest as he could go the 2m route with stablemate Balder Succes apparently Ryanair bound.
Recommended bets: Champion Chase
2pts win – Sprinter Sacre – 11/4 – Totesport, Betfred, Paddy Power, Coral (all non runner no bet)
0.5 pts each-way- Uxizandre – 14/1 – Bet365, Skybet, Totesport, Boylesports, Betfred (all NRNB)