Sprinter Sacre’s comeback run good enough to warrant the vote at Cheltenham

There is nothing more exciting in National Hunt racing than watching high-class two-mile chasers in full flow.

Sprinter Sacre’s comeback run good enough to warrant the vote at Cheltenham

This afternoon at Prestbury Park will witness just such a sight, with a cracking renewal of the Champion Chase, bringing together the very best that this division has to offer.

Facing the starter will be last year’s winner, Sire De Grugy, and Sprinter Sacre, successful the previous year, against the young pretenders, Dodging Bullets, Mr Mole and Champagne Fever.

The contest very much centres round whether the real Sprinter Sacre shows up. If he does then there can only be one result, considering Nicky Henderson’s charge is currently rated no less than 16lbs a better horse than Sire De Grugy.

Two years ago, the nine-year-old produced one of the greatest performances ever seen at the festival when taking the Champion Chase by 19 lengths.

He had to miss the race because of a heart problem 12 months ago, however, and has essentially been under a cloud since pulling up at Kempton in late December of 2013.

Sprinter Sacre had his first outing since that fateful Kempton day when reappearing at Ascot in the middle of January.

To my eyes a huge amount of his extraordinary ability was still present that afternoon, although it is far from a view that is shared by everyone.

He travelled like a dream for most of the contest, until getting tired between the final two fences.

Barry Geraghty then afforded him kid-glove treatment, quite rightly, and did not subject his partner to any sort of a hardship in the closing stages.

In the end Sprinter Sacre was beaten three lengths into second by a race-fit Dodging Bullets and it shaped as a perfectly satisfactory lead-in to Cheltenham.

Sire De Grugy, like Sprinter Sacre, has had a less than trouble-free preparation and, after failing to complete at Newbury, Gary Moore felt the need to run him in a handicap at Chepstow last month.

It was from ideal, but at least Sire De Grugy now defends his crown on the back of a smooth success.

Paul Nicholls’ Dodging Bullets seems to have made a lot of progress this season and, as an up-and-coming seven-year-old, is obviously entitled to plenty of respect.

Nicholls’ Mr Mole is the same age and unbeaten in three outings this campaign. But he is, perhaps, some 7lbs shy of being good enough in this league!

Champagne Fever represents Willie Mullins. The grey has a great record here, but realistically just doesn’t shape as being good enough.

Sprinter Sacre, winner of 14 of his 18 races and successful three times at Cheltenham, showed enough on his comeback run at Ascot to warrant the vote.

Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park looks worth risking each-way in the opening Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle.

Strictly on what he has done over flights, the selection cannot beat the Willie Mullins duo, Nichols Canyon or Outlander.

The first named looks the best of the Mullins pair and he slammed Windsor Park three and a half lengths into second in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last time.

But Windsor Park was given plenty to do on that occasion and then noted putting in some good work at the end.

An extra three furlongs should play to his strengths and, if his jumping holds up, Windsor Park should give us a big run.

In Ireland most punters like to try and solve the bumper, but their skills aren’t half going to be challenged by the Weatherbys’ Champion Bumper. This really is some 24-runner puzzle, with Willie Mullins saddling a whopping seven of the contestants. Attempting to work out the best of the Mullins brigade is virtually impossible in itself, so the discerning punter will surely allow the contest to pass him by and use it merely for educational purposes going forward!

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