Sacre can set Festival tone
Ian Brindle provides a horse-by-horse guide ahead of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
- Related Content
Mail De Bievre
Very much dropped in at the deep end by Tom George having shaped with plenty of promise on his debut for the trainer in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
Initially campaigned with Alan King as a juvenile (winning an Exeter bumper on soft going), he headed to France where he won one hurdle and three chases for previous connections.
George admitted he may have made an error by heading over an extended trip with the eight-year-old so is hoping that his style of running will be more suited to this two miles.
The prevailing going shouldn't be a problem and if he hasn't "bounced" for that reappearance - he has place claims at big odds.
No stranger to victory at the Festival - he was a wide margin winner of the 2010 Fred Winter - Paul Nicholls' gelding scored in four of his six career chases, though has been on the end of two heavy defeats when taking on Sprinter Sacre.
Appeared not to be suited by hold-up tactics in the Clarence House in January, and it would be no surprise to see him returned to more prominent tactics in order to bring his solid jumping technique into play.
Trainer has won this race previously with Call Equiname (1999), Azerytuiop (2004) and Master Minded (2008/2009) although the bookies seem more than happy to oppose him on this occasion.
Bids to become the oldest horse to win the Queen Mother since Moscow Flyer obliged a decade ago.
Second in last year's renewal - there's no doubting his ability having won this race in 2011 and the Arkle in 2010 though the question for punters is to exactly how much he retains.
Unbeaten in all four of his starts this season; he was a comprehensive winner of arguably his toughest assignment on reappearance at Gowran Park (First Lieutenant well held in fourth) and was far superior to his rivals in the other three.
There are, however, doubts about the quality of the current crop of Irish Grade 1 horses in his division as they appear at their weakest for some time.
Connections could have taken an easier option with the Ryanair Chase, but given his previous record at Cheltenham, he is sure to have been primed for the day by Henry de Bromhead.
Seems to have been around forever and drops back in trip having finished seventh in last year's Ryanair Chase.
Now trained by Mick Channon following Henrietta Knight's retirement, he does possess some solid Festival form, running a creditable third to Go Native in the 2009 Supreme Novices' Hurdle and finishing second to Sizing Europe in the following year's Arkle.
A previous winner on soft ground, his better form has obtained on a faster surface and he'd need to leave behind his disappointing run in the Ascot Chase in order to have any chance on this occasion.
For many, the banker of many a multiple bet over the Festival, but even for punters without their hard earned cash aboard, his performance will dictate exactly how this year's meeting will be remembered.
He looked in with a serious shout of landing the 2011 Supreme Novices' Hurdle before a slight error at the last compromised his chances - though this was of little concern to Nicky Henderson for whom a chasing career had always been the plan.
Seven from seven is the record since the switch and there has been no element of fluke about any of the victories - or indeed, the winning margins recorded.
Ultra impressive when despatching Cue Card in last year's Arkle, the seven-year-old simply carried on from where he left off with successes in the Tingle Creek and the Clarence House.
Certainties rarely come with four legs attached and on official BHA figures, if he posts a clear round - it's hard to see him finishing anywhere other than first.
A winner of four chases for Paul Nicholls - he makes a debut for Richard Rowe having shown little for the champion trainer during his last two starts.
The change of scenery, rather than any fault of the trainer, appears to be the reason for the move, and at a lower level, this route produced a return to form with the quirky Tatenen, in the past.
A winner over chase fences at the November meeting in 2009, he has struggled to recapture the promise he demonstrated in his convincing victory in the Maghull at Aintree later that season.
Despite handing weight and a beating to his rivals on a return to handicaps at Chepstow last season, it looks hard to recommend him with any confidence on this occasion.
Departed at the fourth fence in last year's renewal and runs here in preference to the Ryanair as connections have Menorah aimed at that prize.
Formerly campaigned as a three miler, he certainly isn't slow but his tendency to throw in the odd error has to go down as a big negative at this level.
That said, he exhibited plenty of guts when running on to deprive French Opera in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.
From a formbook perspective, he has plenty to do in order to reverse form with Sanctuaire (he was well behind when they met at Sandown and Kempton), and it will be no mean feat for him to follow in the hoof prints of 2002 hero, Flagship Uberalles.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out the claims of SPRINTER SACRE and with the likes of Kauto Star and Denman at pastures new, he could be just the horse to set alight the world of steeplechasing for a number of years to come.
Mail De Bievre is still an unknown though will be of interest to some as an alternative given the exuberant way he negotiated the obstacles at Newbury on debut. On this occasion, there are other possible pace angles to take him on so a forecast of the favourite with Sizing Europe seems the percentage play. It's easy to knock the veteran's victories in Ireland this term but with the ability to perform at grade already in the formbook, he's sure to put up another big performance.