Faint praise has been Sire De Grugy’s lot so far this season, but surely it must be time to acknowledge that he is a two-mile chaser of the highest order, with or without the damning shadow of Sprinter Sacre.
Yesterday’s Clarence House Chase was the eight-year-old’s sixth victory in seven runs, his second Grade One prize, and his most authoritative display to date. And it finally persuaded his trainer, Gary Moore, to commit the star of his stable to a challenge for the divisional crown, the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
With Sprinter Sacre, the highest-rated jumper in training, currently sidelined after cardiac problems and Sire De Grugy on an obvious upward roll in his second season over fences, bookmakers certainly believe the guard may be about to change. The reigning king is still an odds-on favourite for the Cheltenham Festival prize, but a drifting one, and yesterday’s Ascot hero is now as short as 2-1.
“He’s got to go for the Champion Chase now,” said Moore. “I’ve got nearly two months to freshen him up; he’ll have a break for a couple of weeks then I’ll bring him back for the Cheltenham race. He now deserves to be in it.”
Moore’s son Jamie, in the saddle for all 12 of Sire De Grugy’s victories, has done more than any behind the scenes to calm and channel the chestnut’s feisty tendencies. Yesterday his mount settled sweetly behind the solid pace set by Kauto Stone and Hidden Cyclone, the ease with which he was travelling exemplified by the leap at the third last that took him from third to first in the air without apparent effort. Another exuberant clearance at the last sealed an easy 11-length success.
“Some of the jumps he put in were just spectacular,” said his rider. “He was gaining a length, gaining a length every time. I’m not saying he’ll beat that other horse. But now I’ll say he just might.”
At Haydock, Melodic Rendezvous, who had pulled a muscle when disappointing behind My Tent Or Yours at Newcastle in November, bounced back to his best to take the Champion Hurdle Trial. On his favoured testing ground the Jeremy Scott-trained eight-year-old beat Ptit Zig by four-and-a-half-lengths, but is judged a 20-1 shot for the real thing at Cheltenham.
Numerically the day’s plaudits went to trainer Evan Williams, with a cross-card five-timer at Taunton and Haydock. The pair at the latter venue were both ridden by apprentice Conor Ring, including the Peter Marsh Chase winner, Wychwoods Brook.