Jump racing’s ‘Superstar’ is set to return at Ascot tomorrow. A hesitant Nicky Henderson appeared to throw doubt over Sprinter Sacre’s participation in the Clarence House Chase with the likelihood of testing conditions. On Wednesday the returning hero was as big as 2/1 for Saturday’s showpiece, but after both jockey and trainer walked the course the former champion chaser was given the go-ahead and is now a top-priced 6/4 chance.
Henderson sounded happy enough when saying: "It’s probably better than I expected and it walks really well. Considering it’s had 10mm of rain overnight it’s soft and nothing worse than that. I’d be happy with the way it is, but let’s hope it can even get a little bit better. We have got to get this run under our belts and the obvious thing is to come here, I want to run and the intention is to do so.”
Clearly this race would be preferable for the Seven Barrows team, as failure to run here could force them into a confrontation with Sire De Grugy at Newbury in the Game Spirit. Also due back from injury, the current champion chaser is on target for his return with jockey Jamie Moore upbeat about the stable star: “He'll be ready for the Game Spirit, he'll be ready for that no worries. If he got beat we'd still run in the Queen Mother, we won't wrap him in cotton wool. If he gets beaten he gets beaten, there's always another day but I think he'll be spot on."
If that eagerly anticipated clash is to occur this season, much will depend on Sprinter’s performance at Ascot. Should Twinlight travel over from Ireland, there will be a field of five for the race. It’s a track that appears to suit Somersby though he failed to get round in last year’s race won by Sire De Grugy. Now an 11-year-old, he was last seen chasing home Dodging Bullets in the Tingle Creek. That run proved the old warrior retains plenty of ability and he’s sure to run another solid race.
Nicholls will be hoping that his young chaser can follow-up after he won impressively at Sandown. Many questioned the strength of this year’s Tingle Creek, and a victory here would certainly enhance his reputation and strengthen his position in the Queen Mother Champion Chase market. Even if returning fit and well, it would come as something of a surprise if Henderson’s star was to perform close to his best after such a lay-off and Dodging Bullets is best placed to benefit.
Should Twinlight get the go-ahead, he would certainly be an intriguing contender. He ventured over the Irish Sea last January when blundering away any chance in a 2m4f race at Kempton behind Captain Chris. Saturday’s trip will be more suitable, but he is a very inconsistent type who could just as easily finish last as first. Grey Gold completes the line-up and will surely find this company a little too hot to handle. He’ll be ridden by Jamie Moore, who’ll no doubt be taking stock with a later major clash in mind.
Whatever the result, most racing fans will simply hope that ‘the great one’ gets round safely showing plenty of his old sparkle. It’s sure to be an unbearable four minutes for his trainer. Heaven knows how he’ll hold up under the stress of it all. No doubt we’ll all be able to see, with cameras trained in his direction during all stages of proceedings.
Aside from the main attraction there’s a terrific meeting at Haydock with the Peter Marsh Chase the feature. A slog through the mud over three miles and a furlong is sure to become a war of attrition. Venetia Williams is the ‘go to’ trainer when conditions are testing, and she is represented by Shangani. Stepped up to three miles at Kempton last time during the Christmas period, he appeared to appreciate the test. Proven on heavy ground, he looks set to run a big race.
Corrin Wood was a talented novice and ran a cracker off top-weight at Wetherby last time. He looks to be on a fair handicap mark and will love the testing conditions. Vintage Star has another crack at the prize after only just failing in last year’s race. He’s on a 4lb lower mark this time round and incredibly a stone better off with top-weight Hey Big Spender from their Rehearsal Chase run in November.
After last weekend’s success the Skelton’s hope to maintain their great run with Toby Lerone. The son of Old Vic is likely to relish the test and ran well at the track in the Tommy Whittle Chase in December, though he’ll find it difficult to reverse form with Broadway Buffalo from 5lb out of the weights.
Haydock fans are in for a treat with The New One running at the track for the second time this winter. Bertimont should be the toughest nut to crack in the Champion Hurdle Trial, though in truth this looks to be no more than a training exercise for the ‘big one’ in March.
With an exciting meeting at Leopardstown on Sunday we are set for another cracking weekend’s action. Chances are that all headlines will refer to a certain two mile chaser at Ascot. Let’s hope that the accompanying photographs are of a relieved and smiling Nicky Henderson.