The last three winners of the Champion Chase – Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets – line up together in Wednesday's thrilling renewal, yet it will be one of the surprises of the week if any of them manages to derail the express train that is Un De Sceaux.
If Sprinter Sacre, one of the all-time greats, could turn up in the same wonderful shape as in 2013 when he took apart a good field without coming off the bridle, he would be at least a match for Willie Mullins’ runner, but even without his well-publicised heart problems he could hardly be expected to be as brilliant three years on, and he isn’t.
Even so, Sprinter Sacre is probably still good enough to take advantage of any Un De Sceaux slip-ups and it does indeed seem that the most likely cause of defeat for the favourite is a blunder or a fall.
This remarkable French import has won 14 of his 16 starts, but, sometimes enthusiastic to a fault, his two losses have been due to falls in chases, the second time worryingly quite recently at Leopardstown over Christmas,
More measured at his fences, he then put Sire De Grugy in his place at Ascot without a scare and if he has his sensible head on again it is hard to envisage Un De Sceaux (3.30) not being crowned as the new champion on Wednesday afternoon.
More Of That proved his class when beating Annie Power in the 2014 World Hurdle and he has taken to fences well enough, but the RSA Chase, a notoriously gruelling affair, presents a different sort of test and he will need to grind it out to match another English runner, Blaklion, No More Heroes from Ireland and the Scottish hope Seeyouatmidnight.
Sandy Thomson’s Seeyouatmidnight (2.10) beat Blaklion at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and, as both should be in their element over this extra distance, it would come as no surprise if they again fought out the finish.
If Yanworth (1.30), perhaps the most impressive winner of a Festival trial this season when dotting up at this course in January, is a bit of a no-brainer in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, both the Coral Cup and the Fred Winter Hurdle, as ever, induce severe headaches.
Paul Nicholls’ lightly raced, improving novice Politologue (2.50) might be a few pounds in front of the handicapper in the Coral Cup, while the joint bottom weight Our Thomas (4.50), at 25-1, is in with a shout in the Fred Winter on the pick of his form.
Mullins first made his name at this Festival in the mid-Nineties when beginning a stable domination of the Champion Bumper and he is mob-handed again on Wedneday in his attempt to win this race for the ninth time.
The easy Navan winner Augusta Kate, owned by a syndicate that includes Lee Westwood, Alan Shearer and Ant and Dec, looks best of Mullins’ septet.
But trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is sweet on the chance of Ballyandy (5.30), who looked really good when scoring at Newbury last month, and he might be another for the home side.
There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house if Balthazar King, close to death after taking an awful fall in last year’s Grand National, won the Cross-Country Chase for a third time on his return, but the head says that Josies Orders (4.10), going for his third win of the season at this unique track for specialist trainer Enda Bolger and jockey Nina Carberry, will take this prize home for the Irish.
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