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Queen Mother Champion Chase 2017 Preview: Trends, Form, Pace, Tips

Day Two's Cheltenham Festival highlight is the Champion Chase, the ultimate test of jumping with speed and accuracy. It is always one of the most thrilling spectacles of the whole week and, this year, we have the mighty Douvan to look forward to.

From a betting perspective, we need ask whether he Douvan can be beaten and, if not, how else we might go about snaffling some value (assuming you don't believe 1/3 is value or, more likely, have don't enough gold bullion bars to cash in at those odds)?

Champion Chase 2017 Trends

We begin with some history-pokery and a sniff around any profile angles that might be lurking, using the past 19 renewals, covering 20 years (abandoned in 2001).

Age

This is one of those stats around which one needs to be very careful. You may read that horses aged eight and up have had the best of it but, whilst in the simplest sense that may be true, the young bucks have actually held sway.

So, yes, 13 of the 19 (68%) Champion Chase winners since 1997 were aged eight or older. But they accounted for 81% of the runners, and only 75% of the places. In other words, they were doing a bit less than might numerically have been expected.

Compare that with the five- to seven-year-olds. This age group won six Champion Chases (32%) in the last two decades, from just 19% of the runners. And they took out a quarter of the places, too, from that less-than-a-fifth of those going to post.

With no five- or six-year-olds in the entries this season, the seven-year-olds still engaged (though possibly not by tomorrow, Thursday 9th March) are Douvan, Altior, Traffic Fluide, Fox Norton, L'Ami Serge and Alisier d'Irlande.

 

Breeding

One interesting element of those younger winners is that four of the five winners aged seven or less were French-bred. In fact, eight of the last 19 winners - 42% - originated in France from just 31% of the runners. Irish-bred horses also have a solid record: eight wins - still 42% - from 45% of the runners.

Aside from a slight tendency towards the French-bred horses, there is not much else to note.

 

Last Time Out

Last day winners have a statistical dominance that is obvious. For the record, all bar five Champion Chase winners in the last twenty years won their prior start. That's 74% of the winners (and 51% of the placers) from 36% of the runners.

Those finishing second, third or fourth have made the frame in direct proportion to their runner numbers, but what is of mild interest is that of the eight horses to line up having fallen or unseated last time, two won and another two made the frame. Indeed, while three of them fell again, the full form string for last day tumblers is 1F3F14F2, a sequence that includes 5/1 and 9/1 winners; placed efforts at 16/1 and 14/1; and a fourth placed 33/1 shot.

Horses that are most effective in two mile chases almost necessarily take risks at their fences. So perhaps we should be more forgiving, especially when the market seems to have a blind spot in relation to such runners. The sample size is small and, in any case, the chances of beating Douvan are slim, but perhaps we might have a second glance at 2014 winner, Sire De Grugy, in spite of his advancing years.

 

Layoff

Then again, perhaps not. Horses returning after a break of between one and two months have easily the best record. They've claimed 84% of the wins, and 75% of the places, from 59% of the runners.

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Those returning within a month have made the frame less than half as often as might have been numerically expected; while those absent for two months or more have marginally under-performed.

It's hardly a knockout blow for any horse's chance but the right combination of fresh and fit looks advantageous, and counts against Sire De Grugy, God's Own and Alisier d'Irlande.

 

Champion Chase 2017 Form Preview

What to 'dou' with Douvan? He has a commanding edge over this field in the presumed absence of Altior and Un De Sceaux, and is unbeaten in his last fourteen starts since a debut second back three years ago.

He's nine from nine over fences, including six Grade 1's, and he seems unfussed by the state of the turf. Douvan's dominance is somewhat accentuated by what looks a pretty shallow division this term, with Fox Norton a tenuous 'best of the rest'.

Formerly with Nick Williams and Neil Mulholland, Colin Tizzard's second season chaser has seemed a trifle overblown to my eye: victories over the likes of Dormello Mo and 140-rated sorts in a handicap chase are not the stuff of Champion Chase second favouritism. And I can't help but feel his official rating is inflated, a comprehensive doing by Altior (received five pounds, could have given a stone) last time doing nothing to dispel the notion.

I simply don't believe that Fox Norton is worth a rating of 166.

God's Own is famously a 'spring horse', winning at the Punchestown Festival in the past two seasons, and doubling up last term with a victory at Aintree (at odds of 10/1 and 9/1, no less). He was eight lengths behind the resurgent Sprinter Sacre in the 2016 Champion Chase, a distance which was only good enough for fourth. Tom George's nine-year-old ought to again get close to the frame if taking in this rather than the Ryanair, and I prefer his 'been there, done it' CV - in spite of a preference for two and a half miles - to Fox Norton's flattered (in my view) formbook page.

Could Vroum Vroum Mag show up here? She might, but her form at two miles in the mares' division is not good enough to entertain seriously in a Champion Chase.

Uxizandre is considered more likely for the Ryanair, a race he won two seasons ago before injury kept him off the track until last month. There he picked up the pieces behind Un De Sceaux, form that looks good enough to make the Champion Chase frame in a very weak year. He loves Cheltenham and is 11/2 non-runner no bet, without Douvan.

And what of Special Tiara? He's run terrific races to be third in the last two Champion Chases, both times of layoffs since Christmas, whereas this time he ran a shocker in late January here in the re-routed Clarence House Chase. He's 6/1 in the 'without Douvan' market which makes more appeal than plenty of his rivals, without compelling this scribe to reach for his wallet.

The 2014 Champion Chaser, Sire De Grugy, has had a quietly pleasing season in many respects. Ignoring an early fall on his most recent outing, he'd previously won a valuable handicap off a mark of 160 carrying top weight before running a length second to Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek. It seems, however, that connections will rough him off for the season now, missing all of the spring festivals.

Down, down the lists we go, in search of a faintly interesting alternative to Douvan. The truth is there are none, but I want to play the 'without' market so the quest continues.

Garde La Victoire has ability but can't jump and is probably seven pounds south of what is needed to hit the board, while The Game Changer has lost all of his last ten races. L'Ami Serge has been hurdling so must be doubtful here and, in any case, he was nearly lapped by Camping Ground last time. His best chasing form is not up to the job.

Help. Where have all the credible contenders gone? Alisier d'Irlande beat a weak Grade 3 field last time on heavy ground, having failed to pass a rival in his two previous races; and Simply Ned hasn't won since October 2015 when taking a Class 2 handicap at Kelso.

Tom George has a second potential string to his bow in Sir Valentino. Beaten far enough in a handicap hurdle on his only Cheltenham visit, he has progressed markedly in the last fifteen months, from a rating of 132 to 157. Barring one shocker, when stretching out to 2m6f at Market Rasen in the summer, the eight-year-old has been consistent and - unlike many in the list - has actually won a couple of races.

Beaten five lengths in the Tingle Creek, he was the finisher that day and, over a slightly longer trip on a stiffer track, he might again finish off his race better than most.

I loved Traffic Fluide last season, and thought he was a real player for Champion Chase honours on the back of a big run in the 2016 Clarence House. But he got injured before Cheltenham, and was not seen again until two last placed finishes a week apart in mid-February. He's impossible to fancy off the back of that preparation.

Phew, what a motley crew.

 

Champion Chase 2017 Pace Map

...will be added after the five day declaration stage.

 

Champion Chase 2017 Tips

This is 'bar a fall' territory for DOUVAN. He's a winning machine pitted against serial losers. It's hardly fair and, in truth, it won't be a matter of watching a superstar imperiously stroll to victory but, rather, a Grade 1 star trampling all over a field of handicappers.

I'm not in the habit of tipping, or backing, 1/3 shots but I love the 'without' markets. With non-runner no bet on my side, I definitely want a bit of Uxizandre each way at 11/2.

And, much more speculatively, I think Sir Valentino is another who could get rolling late in the play to grab some place money. 8/1 with the same NRNB concession seems fair enough. All the more so if Uxi goes to the Ryanair.

0.5 pts e/w Uxizandre w/o Douvan 11/2 bet365 NRNB

0.5 pts e/w Sir Valentino w/o Douvan 8/1 bet365 NRNB

 

Mullins Tingle King – But Also Holds The Ace

Un De Sceaux did his best to throw it away, yet still had enough in the locker to battle back to a thrilling success in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

This was a case of the quicker horse winning, rather than the most fluent jumper succeeding. Mullins’ chaser is a classy sort, but he’s not one for standing off a fence and launching himself in an extravagant manner. He got in close at the last two fences, and each time appeared to hand the initiative to Sire De Grugy. But Walsh’s mount is quick over the ground, and had enough time from the last to the line to get his head back in front.

Walsh was clearly thrilled with the victory, and said: “It's a great race to be part of and I've ridden some wonderful horses in it, I've been very lucky. Being the champion that he is, Sire De Grugy served it up to us, I got back on top going to the last and when I got hold of him he started to rally all the way to the line, and he's won over further. This horse wears his heart on his sleeve, he just has that natural will to win. It's brilliant. He's a pleasure to ride.”

Colm O'Connell owns Un De Sceaux with father Edward, and said: “It's very emotional for us, he's a family horse. This win is dedicated to my parents, who are at home and didn't travel today. This is the biggest day of our racing lives and our thanks go to Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and all the team. They train him, and we pay the bills - that's our only involvement.”

Watching in Ireland, Mullins said of the victory: “I left it up to Ruby to ride the race as he found it as he knows the other horses so well. He settled him well and he is probably settling better with a bit of age. It was a real battle. He'd two untidy jumps at the last two and had to dig deep. I felt he was better equipped to run in a race like that on his first run of the season.”

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The race developed as many had anticipated, with Ar Mad setting a strong gallop from the front. All looked well for the returning youngster, until a serious error at the first of the railway fences almost brought him to his knees. The loss of momentum took him from first to third, and he suddenly looked a little sluggish. As the front two went head to head from the last, it was notable just how well Ar Mad finished off the race. Ring-rust put paid to his chances this time, but he remains a potential star.

Having come so close to winning another Tingle Creek, Gary Moore was far from disappointed when speaking to Channel 4: “I thought once he'd (SDG) got upsides him he'd just about stay on, but I think he probably outstayed us. I felt I might just have taken the edge off him running him two weeks ago, he's getting a bit older and to have two tough races in two weeks at the age of 10 takes a bit of doing, so fair play to the horse.”

Of Ar Mad he added: “He showed what a good horse he is, to make a mistake like he did and not be beaten too far after nearly 300 days off shows what a good horse he is. He's the one to take out of the race for me, I'd take them all on again any day of the week. I'm not worried about stepping up in trip, I think he'd go further now.”

Speaking yesterday, Moore reiterated the possibility of an assault on the King George, when saying: “Both horses are fine this morning, which is the main thing. I think Ar Mad proved he is a very talented horse. We could run him over three miles or two and a half and I don't think he'd have a problem. I'll speak to his owner (Ashley Head), but we could supplement him for the King George. I suppose it might depend on what else runs, like Thistlecrack. His next run will either be the Desert Orchid at Kempton or the King George, I think.”

The future looks bright for Ar Mad, though possibly at trips beyond the minimum trip. Un De Sceaux once again proved himself a solid performer, though is undoubtedly vulnerable to a bolder jumping two-miler. The Tingle Creek probably confirmed that the division is at the mercy of Mullins’ latest star chaser, Douvan.

Mullins and Moore in Tingle Creek Tussle

Douvan stays at home after all, with Mullins opting to send Un De Sceaux over for the Tingle Creek at Sandown.

“It was an easy enough decision to make,” said the Closutton supremo. “It was probably Un De Sceaux all the time as he’s used to travelling to France and the UK, while Douvan is only a novice going into Grade 1 company against horses who are well used to running in Grade 1s.”

While his Arkle winner heads to Cork on Sunday, Mullins will be hoping that the ground at Sandown is not too lively for Un De Sceaux, who is undoubtedly at his best with plenty of juice underfoot. His best performance of last winter came at Ascot, when easily accounting for Sire De Grugy in the Clarence House Chase. He led from the drop of the flag on that occasion, stretching away from the chasing pack to win by five lengths.

He came off second best to Sprinter Sacre in the spring on quicker ground, though was still very much ‘best of the rest’ behind the now retired champion.

Gary Moore fires two arrows at the target, and has last year’s Tingle Creek winner, Sire De Grugy, seemingly firing on all cylinders. He ran a cracker at Ascot last time, though his victory off top-weight came in a handicap against rather modest opposition. He was certainly impressive, but winning yet another Grade 1 will be much tougher. He does take to Sandown particularly well, having won four chases from five at the track. He’d be making it a record equalling three wins in the prestigious event, though only Moscow Flyer has managed to win the race as a 10-year-old.

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Moore also unleashes the six-year-old Ar Mad. He too has a love of the track, having romped to victory in his two previous visits. He looked a potentially top-class novice chaser last winter, before injury curtailed his season. His demolition of Bristol De Mai at this corresponding fixture was quite sensational. If returning in that kind of form, he could take some catching. He and Un De Sceaux rattling along at the front could be a sight to behold. It will be interesting to see if he can draw an error or two from the Mullins contender.

Tom George is also double-handed, with God’s Own probably his best chance of success. He already has a trio of Grade 1 victories to his name, with two of those coming at Punchestown. Right-handed track on decent ground is ideal for the eight-year-old, though Un De Sceaux has had the better of their encounters thus far. He appears to have plenty in his favour, but I fancy he’ll find one or two with a little more zip.

George captured the Haldon Gold Cup with Sir Valentino in November, but this is undoubtedly a different proposition for the seven-year-old. He’s an improving sort that should not be discounted out of hand, and will come here match-fit, whilst some may need the run. No horse has won the Haldon and followed up here since Flagship Uberalles in 1999.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has a fabulous record in the race, but a Vibrato Valtat victory would be a huge shock. The horse is simply not good enough in this company, and has now become very difficult to place. He was tried at 2m5f in the Stella Artois at Ascot last time, but failed to land a blow. He’d need plenty of these to have an off day, to have any chance.

The markets have it about right, as they often do in the Tingle Creek. Favourites have a strong record, and the Champion Chase is regularly a pointer to this. Un De Sceaux looks the likely winner, with the youngster Ar Mad the main danger. Moore’s six-year-old has been off since February, and that tips the balance towards the favourite. Chances are that they will go head to head from the off, inevitable placing emphasis on the pairs jumping. It’s sure to be a thrilling spectacle.

Punters On – But is Douvan in

Will he, won’t he, appeared to be the topic of conversation yesterday, as the inclusion of Douvan in Saturday’s Tingle Creek remained uncertain.

Priced up at 5s earlier in the week by some bookies, prior to a stampede and subsequent shortening to 4/7, Mullins’ outstanding young chaser can now be backed at 6/4 in places.

His regular pilot, Ruby Walsh, had little sympathy for the betting industry when saying in his Paddy Power blog: “Willie Mullins will make a decision on Douvan running in the Tingle Creek Chase at declaration time, but pricing him up at 4/1 or 5/1 was crazy. He’s the odds-on favourite for the Champion Chase, is unbeaten since he joined us in Closutton, and we've never made any secret of how highly we rate him. And the reigning champ Sprinter Sacre was retired a few weeks ago.”

Walsh went on: “Gary Moore's Ar Mad put in a hell of a performance here last year, but hasn't run since February after getting injured, while his stable-mate Sire De Grugy is rising 11 in a month's time. Most of the others are also more exposed. If the bookmakers decided for some reason to price Douvan like he wasn't going to run, that's their problem, not ours. I expect him to run a big race if he takes part, but I also expect Un De Sceaux to do the same if he runs. Don't forget Willie entered both at the initial entry stage and hadn't said anything to contradict that before the bookies' alarm bells started ringing yesterday.”

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There’ll be a huge sigh of relief from numerous bookies, should Douvan be pulled, though not from the public, who would love to see the Arkle winner scooting around Sandown. A clash with Moore’s exciting front runner Ar Mad is a mouth-watering prospect. Last year’s impressive Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase winner was two from two at the track, and appeared a better horse going right-handed, before being struck down by injury.

Moore reports him to be ‘as ready as I can get him at home’, adding: “He's a busy horse, so you would think he would get fitter quicker than some of the others.” The Sussex trainer also has last year’s winner Sire De Grugy, primed for another crack on the track he loves. He’ll be looking to win the Tingle Creek for a record equalling third time, and has four wins from his five outings over fences at the Esher racecourse.

Tom George may also be double-handed, with God’s Own and Sir Valentino set to take their chance. The former needs better ground and a right-handed track to be at his best, though his jumping will need to stand up to the Tingle Creek test. The race can quickly get away from you at Sandown, if a round is not error free.

Sir Valentino won the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last time, beating Garde La Victoire in a titanic struggle. Though Tom George’s yard remain in outstanding form, it’ll be some training achievement to make this fella competitive in this Grade 1. He was slick at Exeter last time, and goes well on a sounder surface, but is sure to be taken out of his comfort zone at this elite level.

With the declarations for the race confirmed today, we’ll find out just how select the field is, and hopefully the Sandown crowd can look forward to a real treat, in seeing the outstanding talent Douvan, a horse described by Ruby Walsh as having ‘unbelievable natural ability’.

Moore Of The Same – Team Moore Strike At Warwick

Need a talented two-mile chaser - who you gonna call? No not the GHOSTBUSTERS, but rather the REPUTATIONBUSTERS!

The ‘go-to’ trainer in the two-mile chase division was at it again on Saturday, when the Gary Moore trained Violet Dancer romped to victory in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick. The three runner event was billed as a suitable prep for the Nicky Henderson trained L’Ami Serge. Sent off the 1/5 favourite, he was expected to cruise to victory, further enhancing his Arkle Chase credentials. However, Mr Moore had other ideas, and again captured a valuable Saturday prize.

Violet Dancer joins a powerful looking team at Cisswood Stables, with Sire De Grugy, Traffic Fluide and Ar Mad already exhibiting their talents on the track during the winter. The six-year-old has a similar running style to the yard’s star novice, and between them they have now downed both of Henderson’s leading two-mile novice chasers, with Ar Mad having beaten Vaniteux at Christmas.

Violet Dancer attacks from the front, forcing errors from those trying to land a blow. At Warwick neither L’Ami Serge nor Fox Norton were able to get close, with the contest all but over turning for home. Just as exuberant though less flamboyant at his fences than Ar Mad, this fella is quick to put himself right at his obstacles and spends very little time in the air. He has the look of a flat track bully, likely to be at his very best on tight turning tracks.

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Winning jockey Jamie Moore said: “He's very genuine and tough and hard like a lot of Dad's. I thought I'd serve it up to L'Ami Serge down the hill and again turning in. He can hit the odd fence, but he's a very hard horse and has won impressively.”

Henderson felt that his horse had failed to produce his best, but in truth he was hurried out of his comfort zone, and never looked to have the gears to reel in the winner. Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle exposed L’Ami Serge’s inability to cope with a relentless gallop. He remains a talented horse, but he’ll need to be stepped up in trip if he is to have any chance of winning at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Moore’s have Ar Mad going left-handed at Plumpton today, with a ticket to Cheltenham resting on his performance. For me it’s the wrong track to test him on. The tightness will exaggerate any tendency to jump out to his right, whereas a track like Cheltenham would be more forgiving. Nevertheless, let’s hope he passes the test and takes his position on the Arkle starting line. The race would be the poorer without him.

Whatever the outcome, Team Moore continue to thrive, and have the ammunition to take on all-comers in two-mile chases over the coming years.

Mullins v Moore – A Clarence House Duel

The last three winners of the Clarence House Chase at Ascot have all gone on to take the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in the same year.

The event was first run as a handicap in 1989 when known as the Victor Chandler, and was won by the exceptional Desert Orchid. The race moved from handicap to a conditions race in 2007 and was awarded Grade 1 status. In its short yet illustrious history it has regularly attracted the best two mile chasers, and one of the most thrilling renewals came when still a handicap back in 2004.

The Arkle Chase winner Azertyuiop had to give an enormous 19lbs to Nicky Henderson’s talented chaser Isio. In a pulsating finish, the two battled head to head from the second-last fence with Henderson’s eight-year-old a neck to the good at the line. Nicholls’ classy chaser went one better at Cheltenham less than two months later when taking the Champion Chase.

The race has certainly favoured young improving chasers, with the last eight victories going to those aged eight and under. It’s no surprise then that the event has often gone to those who have performed well in the Arkle as a novice. Somersby came second in the Arkle Chase of 2010 and filled the same spot in this Ascot feature behind Master Minded in 2011. He went one better when winning the Clarence House in 2012 as an eight-year-old.

Master Minded was winning the race for the second time in 2011 having already been successful at the age of six in 2009. The exceptional two mile chaser had already won a Champion Chase by then.

Another outstanding Arkle winner took the race in 2013. Sprinter Sacre romped to victory in the Clarence House, a renewal re-routed to Cheltenham, before going on to victory in the Champion Chase. And in 2014 a fast improving Sire De Grugy took the race in testing conditions before backing up that win in the big one at Cheltenham.

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Last year it was another rapidly improving young chaser that took the event at Ascot. Though Dodging Bullets had only managed fourth in the Arkle Chase as a novice, he had shown vast improvement to take the Tingle Creek, before winning this on route to victory in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

That brief synopsis highlights the exceptional record of improving young chasers in Saturday’s Clarence House Chase. Often Arkle winners, the race regularly goes to progressive unexposed chasers.

When looking at Saturday’s renewal, it’s impossible to ignore the one outstanding candidate for the race and understandably the short-priced favourite. Un De Sceaux, assuming he takes up the entry, arrives as last season’s Arkle winner and is yet to be defeated in any race under rules when successfully reaching the finishing line with a jockey still on-board.

There’s plenty out there that are crabbing his form and point to his jumping frailties, again evident when hitting the deck last time at Leopardstown. Nevertheless, he is the outstanding racehorse in the field; is relatively unexposed over fences; and an improving eight-year-old with that all-important Arkle victory on his CV.

Of course all the above does not guarantee victory for the all-conquering Willie Mullins. In opposition is a former winner of the race and the Champion Chaser of 2014; Gary Moore’s Sire De Grugy. He looks to be back to something near his best, indeed his trainer believes the 10-year-old is working as good as ever. One trend in his favour is the record of Tingle Creek winners who follow up with success in this. Six of the last seven that took the Sandown feature came here and won. The only one that didn’t was Sizing Europe, when he swerved Ascot in 2012.

Vibrato Valtat is also worth a mention. He is also an improving young chaser, though the limitations of his ability have been exposed in his last two races when third in both the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid. Should the top two fluff their lines, he is best placed to prosper.

In reality it has the look of a straight forward duel between the top two in the market. If Ruby can steer Un De Sceaux round without mishap, he’ll surely take some catching. However, in Sire De Grugy we have a top-class chaser more than capable of taking full advantage given the opportunity.

It should prove a thriller.

A Seven Barrows Sensation – Memories of Kempton 2011

Binocular and Rock On Ruby in a Thriller

Binocular and Rock On Ruby in a Thriller

The year had started with England retaining the Ashes down under. On the Flat, Frankel had stormed to victory in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. A young boxer named Anthony Joshua had announced himself as a kid with a bright future when winning a silver medal in the World Amateur Championships. And Novak Djokovic lifted the US Open crown at Flushing Meadows. Some things never change.

It had been a hell of a year in sport when the winter of 2011 arrived. And during the King George meeting at Kempton unparalleled success went the way of one of the major forces in Jump racing. Nicky Henderson had a stack of quality horses at his disposal, and the master of Seven Barrows gobbled up a host of major prizes.

The Christmas Hurdle has often proved to be a thriller, and this one was no exception. The Champion hurdler of 2010, Binocular, managed to see off the future Champion Rock On Ruby in rip-roaring finish.

The ever gutsy Overturn had set off like a scolded cat, and turning for home had the two leading protagonists attacking on either flank. With AP driving for all his worth on Henderson’s champ, and Ruby Walsh aboard the future King, the pair approached the last locked in battle. In a pulsating finish it was Binocular that found a little more to claim victory.

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Just half an hour earlier Bobs Worth had found both Grands Crus and Silviniaco Conti a little too nifty for him in the Feltham Novices’ Chase. The winner failed to build on the stunning success, whilst Silviniaco fell in love with the course. Bobs Worth was to find Cheltenham more to his liking when a few months later he took the RSA Chase. A year on and he was to have his finest hour, when successful in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Henderson had a double on the day with novice hurdler Tetlami adding to the Binocular win. One that just got away was the King George itself, when the reigning Gold Cup winner Long Run failed to change the course of history. Kauto Star’s date with destiny and an incredible fifth success in the race prevented Long Run from making it back to back victories. One of the all-time greats was in the twilight of his career, yet just 24 hours later a new superstar would announce his arrival.

The following day Henderson was not to be denied when a stunning treble included wins for Finian’s Rainbow and rather fittingly the mighty Sprinter Sacre. The former took a cracking Desert Orchid Chase, getting the better of Wishfull Thinking in the shadow of the post. In March he was to win a dramatic Champion Chase at The Festival.

For Sprinter Sacre, things were just a little more straightforward. Only three went to post in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, with Peddlers Cross the odds on favourite. However, the former Champion Hurdle runner-up failed to land a blow, with Henderson’s gorgeous chaser simply scintillating. Occasionally looks are not deceiving. Sprinter Sacre had all the physical attributes necessary to become one of the great chasers. And so it proved.

The Seven Barrows handler has a terrific record with his young chasers in the Wayward Lad at Christmas. He’s turned out seven winners since 2000, including Simonsig in 2012. He relies on Vaniteux this time round, the horse having already won at the track on his chasing debut. He was mightily impressive that day, and many, me included, will be hoping to see another exciting performance on Sunday.

It could prove a thrilling day for Henderson, with Sprinter Sacre set to run in the Desert Orchid just half an hour later. The nine-year-old may well clash with Gary Moore’s former Champion Sire De Grugy. The former looked something like his old self when sauntering to victory in the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham, whilst Moore’s fella brought the house down with his success in the Tingle Creek.

Kempton 2011 proved momentous for Henderson and his team. But he’ll be more than ‘ho ho hopeful’ that this Christmas can deliver a Santa sack full of success.

Please Sire – Can We Have Some Moore

Last Fence Drama at Sandown

Last Fence Drama at Sandown

Gary Moore’s current purple patch is testament to the highs and lows of our great sport.

Since sustaining a painful injury at his Sussex stables which saw him hospitalized for several days, the fortunes of the yard have turned dramatically, culminating in yet another treble at Sandown on Saturday, including victory in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek for stable star Sire De Grugy.

Travelling with far greater verve than when last seen at Exeter, and spring-heeled at his fences, the nine-year-old was sent to the lead at the Railway Fences and looked to have the race in safe keeping turning for home. However, Special Tiara renewed his challenge and at the final fence the two collided mid-air before Sire De Grugy pulled out more towards the finish.

The impact at the last was substantial and there’s certainly a strong case for the result having been reversed by the stewards. Ultimately the result stood and Gary Moore along with the exuberant connections were able to commence celebrations. The relieved trainer said: “He has put Devon behind him and one or two runs last season. Hopefully he can progress from today. When he jumped the ditch the first time he was positive at it. In my mind this ranks higher than winning the Champion Chase. Everybody seems to make Cheltenham the be all and end all, but I don't and to me this is as good as winning at Cheltenham.”

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Henry De Bromhead, trainer of the runner-up, was rather less than impressed with the result, saying: “He should have won, obviously he was coming to win the race and the other horse took him out, it was as simple as that. I was delighted with his run, and we will decide where we go next when we get home.”

That final fence drama should not detract from a wonderful performance from Moore’s fella. The ex-champion is certainly back to something like his best, though down the line may well find a certain Un De Sceaux plying his trade at a different level.

Back in third on Saturday was Vibrato Valtat. At a track he clearly enjoys, and with conditions appearing to be in his favour, he just came up short. Outpaced by Sire De Grugy he briefly closed turning in, but was then put in his place by the front two. At the age of six there is time for further improvement, but it’s likely he’s simply not quite good enough in this type of company.

Earlier on the card Moore had saddled the winner of the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, when Ar Mad caused something of an upset with an outstanding front running display. Wonderfully slick over his obstacles, he set strong fractions before staying on well to run out a 10 length winner. He has to go right handed, and his trainer was quick to dismiss the Cheltenham Festival as an end of season target.

A pair of Grade 1 victories and trebles on consecutive days at the Esher track was a truly exceptional performance from the Sussex handler and his team. Few would grudge one of racing’s most likeable families every bit of their well-earned success.

Sandown provides timely pain relief for Moore

Moore with his stable star

Moore with his stable star

For trainer Gary Moore it’s been one hell of a week, but thankfully it ended on something of an upward curve.

Released from hospital after the kicking he received from one of his horses, his spirits would have been further lifted by an outstanding treble at Sandown.

Ar Mad caused an upset in the beginners chase, defeating his more fancied rivals Golden Doyen and Sirabad. It was a fine front-running performance, though the race was most memorable for the erratic jumping from the runner-up and even more so from Paul Nicholls’ charge who persisted in taking off a mile from his fences.

The trainer’s son Josh, who partnered Ar Mad, said of his old man: “He's feeling much better and is coming out of hospital now. He's rough and sore but has no major injury. We'll be keeping him in the house so he doesn't do any more damage to himself!”

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Jamie Moore, who was on-board the yard’s other winners Darebin and Vino Griego, added: “He broke five ribs - which will have been very painful - had a punctured lung and bruised his spleen. He is back at home surrounded by the family and the grandchildren will be keeping his spirits up.”

Nothing would do more to cheer-up the West Sussex trainer than a return to form for his stable star Sire De Grugy. After trailing home last on his return at Exeter, Moore had said: “It was very, very disappointing. I can't understand it. I expected him to run a big race but he looked flat and disinterested. He made one clumsy mistake but got back into the race okay. He'd undergone plenty of tests before he went to Exeter and trotted up fairly sound this morning. It's one bad run. We'll see where we are in a few days' time with him.”

The Tingle Creek is still on the agenda, though a run over hurdles beforehand is a real possibility, and may be just what the old warrior needs to restore his confidence.

The team can also look forward to an exciting campaign with novice chaser Violet Dancer. A little erratic at times on his debut outing at Towcester, he nevertheless won with plenty in hand, and with more experience and allowed to bowl along in front, he is sure to win his fair share of races. His front running demolition job in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury back in February will live long in the memory.

Baron Alco is another with the potential to reach greater heights. A little too keen at times, he has to learn to settle better in his races. However, a truly gutsy win at Stratford last time over hurdles gave cause for optimism, and he’ll surely make a better chaser; he’s certainly bred to be.

Pleasure and pain often ride side by side in the sport of horse racing. With a current strike rate of around 20%, Gary Moore will be hoping for continued pleasure on the track, and far less pain off it.

Nicholls at it again

Nicholls takes Exeter showpiece

Nicholls takes Exeter showpiece

I make no apologies for once again banging on about how impressive Paul Nicholls is as a trainer. Seasons come and go, yet the outcome of significant races is rarely in doubt.

Ptit Zig made it seven wins from the last eight for the Champ in Down Royal’s Powers Irish Whiskey Chase. It’s an amazing record in an event that takes place at such an early stage of the season. And the trainer was at it again yesterday, when scooping another decent prize at Exeter, thanks to Vibrato Valtat’s victory in the Haldon Gold Cup Chase.

Fresh from a successful novice campaign, the youngest horse in a five runner field cruised to an impressive win. He would have won by further than four lengths had he not made such a mess of the last fence. Nicholls will be hopeful of considerable improvement from the six-year-old son of Voix Du Nord, who appears to have a liking for testing conditions.

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He was slightly disappointing at the end of last season on livelier ground when fourth at Cheltenham in the Arkle before a second to Clarcam at Aintree. He was then thrown in at the deep end when fourth again, this time in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown. That was his ninth outing of an incredibly busy campaign. With another summer on his back he looks capable of taking high order this winter.

Yesterday’s winning jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies, was clearly impressed when after the win he said: “This was a good starting point for the season and Paul had this in mind for him from the back end of last season. Bar the last he jumped well and did everything right. He's got a similar profile to Dodging Bullets coming into this season. He might end up going straight to the Tingle Creek and take on Dodger, but they're both good horses and deserve to take their chances.”

One major disappointment of the race was ex-champion two mile chaser Sire De Grugy. He faded badly in the latter stages though is sure to strip fitter next time. He clobbered the fourth fence and was giving a hefty 10lbs to the winner, but jockey Jamie Moore wasn’t looking for excuses when saying: “I'm gutted, but the simple fact of the matter is he is not as good as he once was. He had a couple of good seasons but he is now nine years old. Whereas before he would wing his fences, today he was laboured.” It was a typically honest assessment from Moore, though there’s just a chance it may prove a hasty one.

God’s Own took the race last year but was a well beaten third this time. Tom George’s charge would undoubtedly have preferred a sounder surface and will remain competitive when conditions suit.

As for the winner, who knows how far he could go? Dodging Bullets progressed throughout the last campaign and took the major prize at Cheltenham. With Un De Sceaux lurking in the distance it looks to be a tougher division this time round. However, with Paul Nicholls at the helm anything is possible.

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