Timeform's Ben Fearnley previews the final Grade 1 race of this National Hunt season, the Celebration Chase at Sandown.
"Sire de Grugy is unbeaten at Sandown over fences, winning two renewals of this race as well as two Tingle Creeks..."
The final Grade 1 of the 2015/15 British National Hunt season promises to play a big role in the British trainers' title race between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, and Mullins - who is currently £45,380 behind Mullins before racing on Tuesday - currently has Vautour, Douvan and Un de Sceaux entered in the Celebration Chase at this stage.
Vautour and Douvan (both Timeform-rated 180p) would be the pair to beat if taking up their entries here, though it is hard to say whether or not they will, with Vautour - who would arrive at Sandown on the back of an uncharacteristic fall in the Melling Chase at Aintree earlier in the month - also entered in the Oaksey Chase at Sandown on Saturday over a more familiar distance, as well as at the Punchestown Festival, which begins next week.
Arkle winner Douvan is an outstanding novice and took his form up another level when winning the Maghull at Aintree by 14 lengths. His potential clash with the top two milers is a tantalising prospect, and in Timeform's opinion he would be too good for both Sprinter Sacre and Un de Sceaux even as a novice, but Mullins did not sound convinced that we would see him again this season at all after he won at Aintree, and on what we know now this race would probably seem the least likely of his entries, which also includes options at Punchestown.
It would not be a surprise if Mullins relied solely on last year's Arkle winner Un de Sceaux, who met with defeat for the first time when completing (fell on two of his chase starts) when beaten three and a half lengths into second by Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. An on-song Sprinter Sacre was the most meaningful opposition that Un de Sceaux has met to date, and though the presence of Special Tiara (who won this last season and looks set to run again) meant he couldn't dominate from the front as he had done previously, it is a bit of a stretch to say that the result would have been reversed with Sprinter Sacre (who is unbeaten this season and is clearly still capable of showing top-class form) under different conditions.
Nicholls has the favourite in the bet365 Gold Cup, the most valuable race of the day on Saturday, but his three entries for the Celebration Chase which are headed by last season's Champion Chaser Dodging Bullets, leave him with plenty to find on Mullins' current trio. Dodging Bullets was below form on his belated return this season in the Game Spirit at Newbury on heavy ground, and was even worse when seventh in the Champion Chase. In truth, he arrives here with plenty to prove at present.
Sire de Grugy is unbeaten at Sandown over fences, winning two renewals of this race as well as two Tingle Creeks, including this season's when beating Special Tiara, and his odds of around 16/1 give him some each-way appeal. He disappointed in the Champion Chase when eighth, but prior to that he had been holding his form, second to Sprinter Sacre in the Desert Orchid (may well have won with a better jump at the last) and filling the same position behind Un de Sceaux in the Clarence House.
The potential presence of Vautour and Douvan adds an extra layer of intrigue to this season's Celebration Chase, but it remains to be seen whether either of them will show up, and it seems more likely that this will boil down to a rematch between the Champion Chase 1-2, Sprinter Sacre and Un de Sceaux. With Special Tiara in the field once again, this could easily be run to suit Sprinter Sacre once more, and he is expected to confirm the Champion Chase placings with Un de Sceaux, and perhaps deny Willie Mullins the trainers' title in the process. Sire de Grugy's record at the track brings him into contention from an each-way point of view (assuming Vautour and Douvan don't run), though it is hard to see why he should reverse form with either Sprinter Sacre or Un de Sceaux, having been behind both of them on more than one occasion this season.