NICKY HENDERSON may be without the brilliant Sprinter Sacre going into today’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, but the Lambourn trainer can still steal the thunder in Cheltenham’s showpiece event with one of his other runners.

Henderson saddles both Captain Conan and Kid Cassidy and the first-named is fancied to come up trumps for him in a race that Sprinter Sacre won last season in facile style.

Alas, the nation’s best chaser, having fallen foul of a heart problem earlier this season, did not entirely please his trainer in his preparation for a comeback and has now been relegated to the easy list for the remainder of the campaign.

Captain Conan is not in the same league as Sprinter Sacre, but he is a talented horse on his day.

He has had just one race this term, a third-placed effort behind Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in early December.

He has since been waiting for spring ground.

A Grade 1 winner over hurdles and fences, Captain Conan is fancied to have the edge this time on Sire De Grugy, who has enjoyed a fine season, but who has something to prove on this course.

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, pictured, took first blood yesterday with nap selection Vautour and the all-conquering Irish duo can lift today’s Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle with Faugheen.

Unbeaten in four starts this season, Faugheen has not raced for ten weeks, but that was always the plan of Mullins, who holds the gelding in high regard.

He looks sure to be hard to beat.

Ballycasey, winner of both his starts this season, can also oblige for Mullins and Walsh in the RSA Chase, which is promising to be a hugely competitive event.

Killultagh Vic, so impressive on his latest start, may be the best of the Mullins contingent in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

The nap vote is awarded to Arzembouy Premier in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

A dual-winner in France, the four-year-old has finished in the frame in both his starts for Gordon Elliott, who won this race last year with Flaxen Flare.

Elliott is a shrewd operator and he adds another string to his bow in this race with Clarcam, but Arzembouy Premier makes most appeal to hit the bullseye under Paul Carberry.

In the Coral Cup, Dell’ Arca is fancied to make a bold bid for David Pipe and Tom Scudamore, who got on the scoresheet yesterday with outsider Western Warhorse.

Tough, consistent, talented and a course winner this season, Dell’ Arca has plenty going for him in this valuable handicap, which is his chosen target from several options at the meeting.

Balthazar King returns from a four month break to contest the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase.

Philip Hobbs’ charge is unbeaten this season, goes well on this course and is capable of defying top weight.

Racing selections

Cheltenham today
1.30 Red Sherlock, 2.05 Ballycasey, 2.40 Dell’ Arca, 3.20 Captain Conan, 4.00 Balthazar King, 4.40 Arzembouy Premier (NAP), 5.15 Killultagh Vic.

Southwell today
1.55 Silly Billy, 2.30 Mishrif, 3.05 On Demand, 3.45 Stoney Quine, 4.25 Kingscombe, 5.05 Samhain, 5.35 Pearl Noir.

Today’s other meetings: Huntingdon and Kempton.

Tomorrow’s meetings: Cheltenham, Hexham, Towcester and Wolverhampton.