The season hasn't gone according to plan for Sprinter Sacre while Sire De Grugy has excelled throughout but the reigning champ is a cut above the field and at a touch over 2.01/1 he rates a bet, says Alex Steedman
"Sprinter Sacre is 19lbs clear of Sire De Grugy on official ratings and Timeform say SDG needs to find 22. The Halifax boffins still have the 'p' next to his name for goodness sake. That 2.111/10 might be the best bet you never had."
Gary Moore has played a blinder. Not only has he produced Sire De Grugy to bag the goodies on several occasions so far this season but he's got us thinking Team SDG are opportunist overachievers.
Moore might be a Gooner and a fan of Arsene Wenger but such deflection is a ploy straight out of the Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson playbook. Make no mistake, Sire De Grugy is ready for his tilt at the championship and so is his manager.
SDG has been a joyous and welcome addition to the two mile division where he has cleaned up in the absence of Sprinter Sacre. His is a team that includes grafter Gary Moore, paddling up the gallops knee deep in water as son Jamie chirps away like a Dick Van Dyke chimney sweep while Steve Preston and family support as though their village football club is nearing the final of the FA Cup. It is infectious, every step of the way.
Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre met of course at Kempton over Christmas where some if not all of the gloss was shorn of a scalping win in the Desert Orchid Chase by the shocking surrender of the reigning Champion Chaser. As the press pack circled Nicky Henderson and the cameras followed so the lime and light parted. Moore's stable star was denied his moment, he was not leading story of that day.
Fast forward to Ascot in December and, with a second Grade 1 safely tucked away, Team SDG were centre stage and loving every minute of it. So were the press, now taking this mob seriously after a performance commanding and bristling with verve. Sire De Grugy has won his four races this term by 30 lengths and to my eye, as well as Timeform's ratings, he's getting better all the time. But is he becoming good enough?
Moore has excelled in his handling of Sire De Grugy - 3.65 to win the Champion Chase on the second day of the Fetival - playing patience through the bulk of last winter before embarking on an end-of-season spring campaign. It meant he had a fresh horse to go to war with and as SDG grew in confidence, so he became a man.
The Celebration Chase beating of former champion Finian's Rainbow was the fruit of those labours but also the platform to betterment. Second year chasers have an excellent record in the 'Queen Mum' with five Arkle winners in a dozen years landing the big one the following season and SDG is making the right moves.
And so is Gary Moore. Just as Mourinho blames a ref and draws the camera to him, so the likeable Moore tells us SDG is not really a Cheltenham horse.
This the creature who was second giving weight to Kid Cassidy in November and the same horse who finished runner-up to quadruple Grade 1 winner Captain Conan last season, his only visits to the track. On both occasions SDG was ridden close to the pace but Jamie Moore does not place him there these days; Its another small factor in his overall improvement but is he anywhere near ready for a monster like Sprinter Sacre?
The previously totemic spectre of Sprinter Sacre looms with shadow and scale once again but is the big black beast back to somewhere near his best and is it a done deal if he is? We just don't know the answer to the first question and given it is a situation which quickly corrected itself, we could be making more of this story than is necessary.
But there is little doubt the past month or so has been a proper test for Henderson and Co, 'dry' February or not. Given the absence-and abstinence-as well as a disjointed preparation, there is uncertainty surrounding the champion for the first time in his astonishing chasing career. But then that is factored into his price of 2.111/10.
Even money could look ridiculous or hopelessly wasteful depending upon your point of view, but let's remember this is the horse who has beaten Cue Card in each of the last two seasons by an aggregate of 11 lengths and smashed his field by nearly 20 at the last Festival.
Sprinter Sacre is 19lbs clear of Sire De Grugy on official ratings and Timeform say SDG needs to find 22. The Halifax boffins still have the 'p' next to his name for goodness sake. That 2.111/10 might be the best bet you never had. Or if Carlsberg did betting, probably the best bet you'll ever have.
The fact that two of the next three in the betting (Benefficient and Al Ferof) are heading for the Ryanair says this is a great betting race, depending upon your persuasion.
Outside the front two Kid Cassidy could be nursed into a place at 5.04/1 but if you're looking for another angle perhaps the same bet with Baily Green appeals at 7.06/1. He did me a favour when chasing home Simonsig at 33/1 in the Arkle last season, he doesn't have much to find with Arvika Ligeonniere on form and Mouse Morris will have him primed for Cheltenham.
The market and the race essentially boils down to a match though and it's an intriguing one at that.
Purists will pray, if not punt, that Sprinter Sacre returns to his imperious best while romantics dream of a Sire De Grugy coronation. Normally there is little room for doubt or dreaming when it comes to punting but in this case you can and can't have both. Despite everything, we do know who the best horse is and if that big black beauty with the enormous, inflamed heart is ready enough then history is waiting.
Alex Steedman's Champions Chase 1-2-3
1. Sprinter Sacre
2. Sire De Grugy
3. Baily Green
Back Sprinter Sacre @ 2.111/10