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Cheltenham Festival day two preview: Sit back and enjoy Sprinter Sacre
WILL the Queen Mother Champion Chase prove to be the procession everyone expects for Sprinter Sacre?
Given that only six rivals line up against Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old in the two mile Grade 1 feature race of the second day of the Cheltenham Festival (3.20pm), it seems trainers are running scared of the supremely talented gelding.
He’s set to go off as the Festival’s shortest priced favourite since Arkle the best part of half a century ago but there is no reason to be disputing his prohibitive odds.
Simply put, if he jumps round and gives his running, he wins.
Unbeaten over fences, and set to replace Kauto Star as the jumping game’s newest superstar, Sprinter Sacre’s appearance in this race has been hotly anticipated ever since he crushed Cue Card by seven lengths in last year’s Arkle.
His two races this season have been utterly destructive performances – a 15 length demolition of Kumbershwar in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and a similarly 14 length humbling of Mad Moose in the Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham towards the end of Janaury.
If there is hope for his rivals today, who include the 2011 Champion Chase winner Sizing Europe, it’s that he is yet to take on the established two-milers, with the exception of Somersby.
But given he has surpassed Long Run as the highest rated jumps horse currently in training, those are meagre crumbs.
A fantastic fluent jumper, Sprinter Sacre should be a joy to watch.
North Yorkshire hopes today rest squarely on the shoulders of Norton trainer Brian Ellison and his Helmsley colleague David O’Meara.
Ellison saddles Totalize in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.40pm) having repeatedly hit the crossbar in his search for a Festival winner.
Bothy was runner-up to Carlito Brigante in the Coral Cup two years ago, while Latalomne was twice in the frame in the Champion Chase when falling two out in both 2002 and 2003.
Totalize, ridden by Danny Cook, was runner up of a novice hurdle at Catterick in December before scoring by a nose 11 days later at Musselburgh.
He was last seen at Kelso, last month, when nearly three lengths the better of Phoenix Returns, bolting up from last to first, and Ellison declared he was “bouncing” in his work in the run-up to today’s contest.
Having been bought out of Luca Cumani’s Newmarket yard for 50,000 guineas last October, Ellison hopes he will show even further improvement.
“He’s a big horse, he’s very athletic, travels really well through his races, jumps well and has got a turn of foot,” he said. “He likes to get on with it, and you have to rein him back a bit because he wants to do too much.”
O’Meara, meanwhile, saddles the interesting outsider Rose Of The Moon in the opening John Oaksey National Hunt Chase (1.30pm).
The eight-year-old has appeared at the Festival before, when a staying on eighth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle two years ago, and the stout stayer clearly doesn’t mind the undulating Cheltenham track.
With connections of Dynaste having switched their focus to the Jewson Novices’ Chase, Boston Bob, owned by Newcastle businessman Graham Wylie, looks to have a leading chance in the RSA Chase (2.40pm).
Trained by the Irish Cheltenham master, Willie Mullins, who has won this race three times and got off the mark yesterday with a fantastic hat-trick of wins, Boston Bob was second in last season’s Albert Bartlett and scooped up a beginners’ chase at Navan before Grade 1 glory arrived by a nose over Texas Jack at Leopardstown in February.
A big step up on his first run, the narrow victory may pose questions, but winners of this race tend to have a solid record in the RSA.
Unioniste, representing a Paul Nicholls yard that has also won this race twice in the past, and the inexperienced Goulanes look among the threats to Boston Bob in an 11-runnere field.
Wylie and Mullins team up in the opening National Hunt Chase with Back In Focus, who won the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase over three miles at Leopardstown at Christmas and should be suited by the trip.
And they also look to claim the Weatherby’s Champion Bumper, which is the final race of the second day, with Briar Hill.
Ruby Walsh rides the five-year-old there and he, along with the sizeable Irish contingent at Cheltenham, will have already hoped to have tasted victory in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (2.05pm) with Pont Alexandre – one of the big pre-Festival hopes from the Emerald Isle.
The unbeaten five-year-old will face a different test to the small fields that he has dominated to date and, with what looks like a liking for soft and heavy ground, it will be interesting to see how he fares if the tacky first day turf at the Festival dries up significantly.
Chatterbox, Taquin du Seuil and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ hotly-hyped horse The New One will all be looking to exploit any cracks in the armour.