National hunt aficionados will not get to see the exuberant brilliance of Sprinter Sacre at Sandown Park on Saturday afternoon as the Nicky Henderson-trained Champion Chaser was ruled out of the Tingle Creek Chase, but with the Seven Barrows wonder out of the reckoning for the two-mile Grade One prize we are set to have a wide open renewal of the contest, which is often regarded as one of the premier trials for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March.
Gary Moore would’ve breathed a sigh of relief when the news emerged on Thursday morning that Henderson would bypass the contest with his stable star Sprinter Sacre and Moore will now head to the Esher venue in high spirits as he looks to unleash Sire De Grugy, who will be eager to bounce back from a disappointing defeat at the hands of Kid Cassidy at Cheltenham’s Open meeting.
Having stormed to victory in the Grade Two Celebration Chase at Sandown at the back end of last season, the seven-year-old had shaped as if he could become one of the leading chasers over the minimum distance and he duly won his first start of this season at Chepstow, before a flop at Prestbury Park left question marks hanging over his ability.
Henderson may not be able to saddle the incomparable Sprinter Sacre, but the Seven Barrows maestro will still have a strong contender in the shape of Captain Conan, who could make his first start of the campaign and looks to be a leading challenger to the aforementioned Sire De Grugy.
A Grade One winner in the novice hurdling and novice chasing ranks, Captain Conan showed when easing to victory in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree’s Grand National meeting that he is a horse to take note of, but some shrewd judges will have their reservations over whether this two-mile trip is too sharp for him and he may just lack that little kick required at the highest level over 16 furlongs.
Somersby had drafted into the ‘has-been’ category after a couple of disappointing runs, but the Mick Channon-trained nine-year-old propelled back into the limelight when defeating subsequent Betfair Chase winner Cue Card in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in early November, but he will need to improve for that outing now stepped back up in class.
Paul Nicholls’s Kauto Stone was labelled as a potential successor of his namesake Kauto Star during the early part of his career, but the Ditcheat raider has failed to live up to those dizzy heights and even though he can produce the goods on some occasions lacked any pizzazz when down the field in the JNWine Champion Chase at Down Royal last time out and faces a battle here.
Of the others, former Cheltenham Festival winner Oiseau De Nuit has often found this class too tough and could be racing for minor honours, whilst His Excellency is another who struggles at the highest level and is not likely to figure in the primary places, with the mercurial Mad Moose likely to gain a round of applause if he consents to race after his copybook has occasionally been blotted for an unwillingness to start.