Dave Ord, Will Hayler, Ben Linfoot and Michael Shinners answer the key questions from the weekend's racing.
According to his trainer, Sire De Grugy may not even go to Cheltenham for the Champion Chase and yet understandably sits as second-favourite in the ante-post betting for that race. What was your take on his Tingle Creek Chase victory and would you be trying to persuade connections to take on the Sprinter at the Festival?
Ben Linfoot: He was a good winner of an extremely weak renewal of the Tingle Creek and I'd be trying to persuade his owners to avoid Sprinter Sacre as much as possible. I'd be looking at Ireland as their two-mile chasers are also a moderate bunch and he'd probably have the beating of those. There are plenty of other good prizes in the spring without going to Cheltenham and he'd have a better chance of beating Sprinter Sacre in the Celebration Chase, if that's where they both end up, if he hasn't bottomed himself trying to keep up with him in the Queen Mother.
Dave Ord: They'd need no second invitation to take him on around Kempton in the Desert Orchid Chase but there is an underlying suspicion that Cheltenham doesn't bring out the very best in Sire De Grugy. That said in the absence through injury of Simonsig he looks the second best two mile chaser around on this side of the Irish Sea and it would be a crying shame if neither SDG or S turned up to test Sprinter Sacre's mettle in March.
Will Hayler: We should all be campaigning for them both to run at Kempton - it would be a highlight to rival the King George at a meeting where the second day often feels strangely flat and it doesn't clash with the Welsh National this year, which takes place the following day. I'm an unashamed Sire De Grugy fan and he won as I expected him to on Saturday. He's a serious tool, but the Moores know him better than I do and if Jamie Moore's got concerns about the track at Cheltenham, then punters must share them.
Michael Shinners: I was very impressed with Sire De Grugy. His jumping was slicker than it had been previously and the way he beat a very useful field proved he is a very good horse. Gary Moore suggested that he would be a better horse away from Cheltenham, however I am sure that opinion might change if Sprinter Sacre doesn't make the Queen Mother for some reason. It will be fascinating to see where he goes next, as a possible clash with SS at Kempton over Christmas is possible.
Hinterland showed the form of his previous encounter with Grandouet over the Sandown fences to have been no fluke when winning the Henry VIII, but what did you make of the race? Has it helped change your mind about the Arkle Chase picture?
DO: What was there not to like about Hinterland? He travelled and jumped well and quickly put the race to bed when it mattered. Grandouet was closing again up the hill which was something of a surprise, after all as a hurdler he wasn't renowned for being a particularly good climber, but even so the winner looked the best horse throughout the race. It looked a very good renewal of the Henry VIII and the pecking order is gradually being sorted out in the UK - but the shadow of Champagne Fever definitely sits over the Arkle at the moment.
WH: Taquin Du Seuil ran an interesting race in third and will have learnt a lot more from that than from his three-furlong sprint against Oscar Whiskey. The natural reaction is to think that he might not have the pace to go down the Arkle route and must instead be more likely to run in the Jewson, but I'm not so sure and wouldn't mind seeing him given another chance over the minimum trip.
"I have my doubts about the Henderson horse now and wonder if he has the appetite for a battle. The second run over fences for Champagne Fever will be interesting and if he shows his undoubted class once again, I think he will be nearer 2/1 after the race."
MS: Hinterland looks a much improved horse this year, although I doubt whether he is good enough to win an Arkle. I was disappointed with Grandouet as he jumped and travelled much better on Saturday, yet still failed to get his head in front. I have my doubts about the Henderson horse now and wonder if he has the appetite for a battle. The second run over fences for Champagne Fever will be interesting and if he shows his undoubted class once again, I think he will be nearer 2/1 after the race.
BL: The Henry VIII was run nearly three seconds faster than the Tingle Creek thanks to a much faster pace and I think it's more reliable form. Hinterland strikes me as a horse who is taking advantage of his experience given he is a second-season novice and I'd expect him to struggle in the Grade One races after Christmas. Grandouet put in a much better run, jumping with more fluency and he's a surefire player in the Arkle. Taquin De Seuil did well to run on again for third after a bad mistake and it's too early to say if he's not cut out for two miles at this level. All in all, I couldn't have Hinterland for the Arkle, Grandouet at 12s is fairly appealing as is Taquin De Seuil at the same price for the Jewson.
We already know what Mr Linfoot made of the Becher Chase, having tipped the first and second in his Value Bet column on Friday afternoon but what was your highlight from the Aintree card on Saturday?
WH: From a financial point of view, it was Unioniste, although the form of that race is highly questionable with Wishfull Thinking performing his usual trick. Connections of The Giant Bolster must be tearing their hair out. He looked to have been found his most realistic opportunity for a while but once again found the fences interrupting his flow. On His Own ran the sort of race in the Becher that means connections will have to be looking back towards the big one next April again now. He didn't have the toe to go with the pacesetters, but jumped round cleanly, and kept on steadily to finish close-up behind the placed horses.
MS: There were two performances that really impressed at Aintree. Gitane Du Berlais was impressive winning the Listed Juvenile Hurdle. She seemed to relish the softer conditions and is a filly to follow back over in Ireland. The other horse I took form the meeting was Unioniste who is still only a 5 year old, yet showed stamina and guts to beat his older rivals. He is currently 33/1 for the Gold Cup and there are worse outsiders at the this stage.
"On His Own ran the sort of race that means connections will have to be looking back towards the big one next April. He didn't have the toe to go with the pacesetters, but jumped round cleanly, and kept on steadily to finish close-up behind the placed horses."
BL: It was a magnificent training performance from Nigel Twiston-Davies and you should never consider it a negative if one of his is coming off a long break. Baby Run was so brave in defeat and hopefully he'll be back in the National, along with the winner. The trip undoubtedly helped Chance Du Roy who finds races around two and a half miles too sharp these days and given he goes so well over the fences perhaps he will be a player in the big one. The fourth home, Ballybough Gorta, ran an absolute blinder for a smaller horse and staying is the name of the game with him. Given Peter Bowen's record over these fences I can see him having a few more runs around here if he can progress and get in the better contests. Unioniste, also, who won the listed race later on the card, looks a potential National type for the future.
DO: I thought Unioniste looked to be firmly back on track in winning the listed chase. He finished his race off particularly strongly and there would be far worse each-way bets knocking around than Paul Nicholls' charge at 33/1 for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. It's interesting to see the trainer mentioned the Lexus as a potential next port of call - and he'd be much shorter for the March showpiece after a big run there.
Bookmakers were about the only Europeans celebrating after the four international races in Hong Kong over the weekend with Moonlight Cloud and Sky Lantern both underperforming, while The Fugue was undone by a slow early pace in the Hong Kong Vase. Connections indicated afterwards that The Fugue is set to return next season as a five-year-old. What did you take out of the meeting?
MS: It's a long hard season for the European horses and perhaps it was a race too far. Gordon Lord Byron ran a cracker in the mile and was unfortunate not to finish in the first three, he looks a force to be reckoned with next year.
BL: I have to admit I turn my back on Flat racing as soon as the November Handicap is over and I won't give it much thought again until the Lincoln. It's just the way I am. It's not really a surprise that our horses have been turned over in that part of the world in December and The Fugue needs everything in her favour to get her head in front. I don't buy that she's been unlucky in her last two races.
DO: Obviously the whole meeting was marred by the tragic loss of Jwala who had been such a flagbearer for Robert Cowell's yard. Elsewhere The Fugue ran well in defeat (again) and will again be a force to be reckoned with at the top level in 2014 - as will Sky Lantern. Just put a line through her run here.
WH: William Buick is in my top 10 jockeys anywhere in the world, but he won't want to add either of his last two rides on The Fugue to his highlights reel. That said, it's great news that the mare's sporting connections want to see more of her on the track next season. Sole Power was no match for the absurdly easy winner in the Sprint, but beat some quick sorts for second place and has ended the season as good as ever. He's a credit to trainer Eddie Lynam.
"The small-field graded chases in Ireland, plenty of them won by WP Mullins, do very little for me I'm afraid. As spectacles they mainly disappoint and as form guides they are next to useless. It would be great to see the talent spread around."
After the withdrawal of Flemenstar, Sunday's John Durkan Chase always looked likely to be a Willie Mullins benefit - regardless of whether Arvika Ligeonniere or Sir Des Champs turned out to be the winner. Is the dominance of the Mullins stable in Ireland and their glut of top-class performers something to be celebrated or mourned?
BL: The small-field graded chases in Ireland, plenty of them won by WP Mullins, do very little for me I'm afraid. As spectacles they mainly disappoint and as form guides they are next to useless. It would be great to see the talent spread around a bit more but the man's a genius and I'm sure his owners don't care one jot.
WH: It's an interesting issue. Speaking personally, I can't ever remember seeing much in the way of 'funny business' when Mullins has multiple runners in the same race, which is the main concern for most punters when one trainer starts to dominate fields. Whether it's good for the sport in Ireland is a different matter, although as dominant forces go, you'd be hard pressed to find one as affable, personable and talented as this one.
DO: It can't be healthy for racing in Ireland to have so many star performers housed under the same roof. However Mullins did pitch two of his big guns together in the John Durkan and it has to be hoped he'll be persuaded to do so again with the likes of Hurricane Fly, Quevega and Annie Power in the months ahead. One thing is for sure, whoever is buying the new stock every year for Mullins (and it may be the great man himself) has not only a fantastic eye for bloodstock and owners with deep pockets.
MS: It's tough from a bookmakers point of view as his domination is certainly affecting margin! Whether it is to be celebrated or mourned, I wouldn't have a strong opinion.