The mighty Sprinter Sacre returned to the racecourse just three weeks ago and now it’s the turn of Sire De Grugy.
Sensational last season, he took command of the two mile chasing division in the absence of Nicky Henderson’s star, winning four Grade 1 races including the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The only blip on an otherwise dominant campaign came at Cheltenham when trying to give 10lbs to Kid Cassidy.
A hip injury has kept him off the track so far this season, but on Saturday he heads to Newbury to contest the Betfair Price Rush Chase more commonly known as the Game Spirit. It’s a race that’s gone to some of the greats in recent years including Sprinter Sacre, Master Minded, Well Chief and Azertyuiop.
Trainer Gary Moore appeared confident of a big run when speaking earlier in the week: “He did his final piece of serious work and I'm delighted with what I saw. He's ready for Newbury now, but don't get me wrong, he'll come on for the run and there's still a little bit left to work on. But he's fit enough to do himself justice.”
The initial feeling is that he faces a slightly easier task on his return than that of Sprinter Sacre at Ascot last month. The main thrust of opposition appears to come from a pair carrying the famous silks of JP McManus. Uxizandre remains a horse of huge potential despite his last appearance in Ireland, when running a shocker at Leopardstown. Heavy ground was blamed that day and it does seem that a sound surface is essential to Alan King’s charge. With ground expected to run soft on raceday, there’s a chance that he’ll fail to spark again, if indeed he runs at all.
Paul Nicholls sends Mr Mole into battle and he is the second runner in green and gold. A winner of his last three, connections seem happier with this quirky fella since adopting more forceful tactics. He’s beaten Venetia Williams’ Brick Red on two recent occasions and the Champion trainer is looking forward to this weekend’s challenge: “His form has been franked and he seems a very happy horse at the moment, and is in a great place. I'm looking forward to running him in the Game Spirit."
It has to be said that beating Brick Red by a couple of lengths is miles short of what is needed to beat a reasonably fit Sire De Grugy, however, he’s always been seen as a horse with plenty of untapped potential. Saturday’s race will go some way towards showing just how good he is and of course will then determine festival targets.
Taking the long journey down from Northumberland, Pauline Robson sends her promising chaser Upsilon Bleu for a taste of the ‘Premier League’. Good enough to run Simply Ned close last January at Doncaster, he is without doubt an improving horse, with a decent French pedigree. He looked a tricky ride at Wetherby last time, when idling close home having travelled smoothly through the race. He beat French Opera on that occasion and this is clearly his toughest task to date.
You’d feel that Sire De Grugy needs to win this well if he is to be shortened in the Champion Chase market. Sprinter Sacre’s return left rather more questions than answers, but he’d spent almost two years in the wilderness with a more complex medical issue. The West Sussex team will be far more confident that their hero can return as he left us. Another graded win will do very nicely thank you very much. Then thoughts can turn to that huge day at Prestbury Park in March.