The news came on Sunday evening that all racing fans were fearing and that is that Sprinter Sacre will miss the Cheltenham Festival. The brilliant winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2013 will not be back to defend his title after trainer Nicky Henderson reported the hose to be below his best at home. The decision has been made to put the horse away for the season with the aim of returning next winter just as good as ever.
Sprinter Sacre is understood to have recovered from the irregular heartbeat that caused him to be pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas, but it appears that Henderson has run out of time to get him back to Prestbury Park. The news of Sprinter Sacre's withdrawal sent shock waves through the sport on Sunday evening with the betting for the Queen Mother Champion Chase shaken-up.
The new favourite for the race is Sire De Grugy who has benefited from the absence of Sprinter Sacre all season. The Gary Moore trained eight-year-old has won the Tingle Creek, the Desert Orchid and the Clarence House Chase this winter and he is now as short as 15/8 with Skybet to win the Champion Chase next month. Other horses towards the head of the new market include Arvika Ligeonniere (5/1), Benefficient (5/1) and Captain Conan (7/1) who is now likely to be the first string for Nicky Henderson in the two mile chasing championship race.
The Sprinter Sacre news did somewhat overshadow a decent weekend of racing with more than one or two Cheltenham Festival clues emerging over the past few days. The Prestbury Park meeting is now just over two weeks away but we saw some impressive performances on Saturday and Sunday with Kempton Park in particular playing host to a good card.
Weekend Racing Clues on the Road To Cheltenham
As we have already mentioned, the main focus in the UK over the weekend fell on Kempton Park and we were lucky enough to see a couple of very impressive performances. The first of them came in the Adonis Hurdle as the Harry Fry trained Activial pulled comfortably clear of a good field to enhance his growing reputation. Recent winners of the Adonis include Zarkandar, Punjabi and Binocular among others and while it is too early to say if Activial fits into that company, he does look like a progressive horse to watch.
The bookmakers were certainly impressed with Activial with the juvenile cut from 25/1 into 10/1 for the Triumph Hurdle after the race which looks a fair enough price on this form. Harry Fry was quick to say afterwards though that he is not guaranteed to run at Cheltenham, with Aintree also under consideration for a horse that should be seen to best affect over fences later in his career.
The other performance of note at Kempton at the weekend came from the progressive Irving who won the Dovecote Novices Hurdle in exciting fashion. The Paul Nicholls horse was backed off the boards before the race and he duly justified that confidence as he won without coming off the bridle under Nick Scholfield. It was the fourth win in-a-row for the six-year-old and in truth he really could still be anything at this stage of his career.
The Paul Nicholls trained in-mate was cut from 13/2 into 3/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle after his latest success and he is now the ante-post favourite for the Festival opener. On the face of it, Irving looks like the main challenger from Britain this season although one note of caution is that he is yet to go left-handed.
The Alan King trained Balder Succes cruised to victory in the Pendil Novices Chase at Kempton on the same card and he remains a possible for the Arkle. He is as short as 12/1 for the Cheltenham race but all the signs suggest that he will swerve the Festival in favour of a trip to Aintree in April.
There was also a decent card at Chepstow on Saturday afternoon with the David Pipe trained Buddy Bolero winning the latest Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle over three miles. The eight-year-old pulled well clear of Kris Spin in the heavy ground and he is now on target for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, for which he is available at a best price of 20/1 for as a result of this nice success.
Meanwhile, over at Fairyhouse we saw a National Hunt Chase contender emerge with Si C'Etait Vrai winning the Beginners Chase in good fashion. The eight-year-old is another potential Festival horse for the Gigginstown House owned team and the eight-year-old looks to be a strong stayer after this success in soft to heavy ground. The Dessie Hughes in-mate was cut from 33/1 into 20/1 for the four miler at Cheltenham and that could appeal to some each-way punters after this win.
The action in Ireland continued on Sunday at Naas with the Woodlands Park 100 Club Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase over two miles four furlongs the highlight. In the end we saw a facile success for Mozoltov who sauntered to a 35 length success despite one or two jumping mistakes. It is impossible to read anything into the form of this race but the horse remains a possible for the JLT Novices Chase next month for which he can be backed for at 20/1 as a result of this comfortable win.