This race revolves around Sprinter Sacre and his soundness. Let’s have a look and see can we root out the value for the punters.

SPRINTER SACRE 4/5 : There are lots of things that can stop a horse, these would include amongst others, burst blood vessels, all sorts of breathing difficulties, being struck into, lameness,inverted/rotated pelvis, kissing spines, unscrupulous connections and of course heart problems. Sprinter Sacre suffers from the latter and it changes everything as regards looking forward to this race. He is suffering from a condition called atrial fibrillation or put simply, an irregular heart beat. This is caused in lots of cases by the size of the heart itself. Sprinter Sacre ,like Denman, who had an identical problem , is a huge gross horse and in their cases they have larger hearts than some others and in turn have big masses of muscle surrounding it and because they are very talented animals to boot this causes extra stress. Michael Dickinson used to measure the heart on all his horses and he used to grade them in order of size and mass. I had a filly in training with him and the cost of measuring the heart was about 500 dollars at the time. It was money well spent. Dickinson was of course a genius at training any type of horse and set the standard in advancements of understanding the thoroughbred as much as anybody else since the legendary Vincent O’Brien.

Can Sprinter Sacre overcome his problems ? It is very much 50/50.I am leaning towards the 50% in the ”no” category. Denman recovered well enough to win a Hennessey and run a good second in the Gold Cup but he had a small operation and a big rest to recover whereas Henderson’s charge, while having a 75 day break from his last run still has to be kept to the go to make the Champion. There is another difference. Denman was a stayer while Sprinter is a speedball two miler. The former would have slow twitch muscles whilst the latter would be all fast twitch. It is my opinion that Denman had a better chance of recovery over the longer slower distance as it put less stress on the heart whereas the opposite is true of Sprinter Sacre who will have to be pumped up from the start and therefore in a higher risk category.

Sprinter of course had an exemplary record over fences before his misfortune the last day winning ten in a row and becoming the most exciting national hunt horse in training. Now there must be a huge doubt as to whether he will ever be the same again. Is he also yet another example of a Nicky Henderson chaser not holding his form after the age of seven or eight ? Maybe he can do it, but at the price I must take him on.

SIRE DE GRUGY 5/2 : The second market choice and fancied by many. Our esteemed friend Nick Mordin has never given him a very big speed figure and that has to be of a concern, he has had ample opportunity to run one but he has improved this season and taken two Grade One’s. His two lifetime visits to Cheltenham have yielded two seconds to Kid Cassidy and Captain Conan. It sort of reinforces the idea that he is not top class and one wonders if he will be good enough. The available price just seals the deal as regards a no bet. There is better value around in a non vintage year especially if Sprinter Sacre is not at his best, which is likely. All ground comes alike to him.

CAPTAIN CONAN 8/1 : Very lightly raced seven year old who might have been feeling the effects of three bruising encounters when disappointing behind Benefficient in last year’s Jewson and yet came out twenty one day’s later to win at Aintree. Has had an interrupted campaign this time with just the one run in the Tingle Creek behind Sire De Grugy. He ran big there before tiring to finish a seven lengths third. Every chance of turning the tables on Sire if he has clean run into this but will that still be good enough to triumph ? Has to be considered. Acts on all going.

BENEFFICIENT 8/1 : A seemingly impossible horse to work out until you really get stuck into his form. I finally understand him. Strip away all his ”educational ” runs and runs over further than 2.4 miles and going right handed then he has won five from seven and from the two losses it could be argued he was wrong in that Arvika Ligeonnaire event and was unlucky not to get up in the other at Listowel on chase debut. He knows how to win and win ugly, he can scrap despite the headgear. A fast run race over a stiff two miles will be just perfect and a danger to all. Acts on all surfaces.

ARVIKA LIGEONNAIRE 10/1 : Has won a Grade One chase over two miles going left handed but Benefficient was wrong there and it effectively ended up a three runner affair but he did it well albeit jumping out to his right. He has lost all four of his other tries going left handed and won eight out of ten going the other way round so that is one niggle going into this. The other one is , what happened in the Arkle last year ? I thought he would run huge and wrote him up for it but he capitulated early after pulling hard and I wondered had he burst a blood vessel or was it that he just hated the undulations or indeed is a poor traveller overseas ? He weakened again in the Albert Bartlett in 2010 but in fairness he patently didn’t stay the three miles as he was bang there until after the second last. He is exciting to watch in full flow but does seem to have a few issues re the left handed thing, the travelling overseas and/or the undulations of Cheltenham. At nine years of age now I have to pass him over.

AL FEROF 10/1: This horse has a very good record at Cheltenham racetrack winning three out of six, including winnig the Supreme and finishing second to the mighty Cue Card in the Bumper. He would also have won another race at the course but for falling. One has to forgive him that rare poor run in the Arkle two yeas ago. Had been absent for a year and made a winning reappearance over 2 m 3f at Ascot before running over further in the King George and recently at Newbury without looking as if he stayed ,especially on soft/heavy. Will enjoy the better ground and a bold bid is anticipated.

BAILEY GREEN 14/1 : Had a prolonged multiple winning season before running a lifetime best when a closing second to Simonsig in last year’s Arkle. Has not reached those dizzy heights this time round and needs a big jump up but this is a poor renewal and his trainer has a fantastic record here and whenever taking his horses over to the UK. Still hard to fancy though.

KID CASSIDY 14/1 : Impossible horse to predict. Has some really smart form including here and is best on decent ground. I am going to pass but that should not put you off if you fancy him or can understand his profile better than me.

HINTERLAND : Not out of this and you can view his profile on my Arkle blog so no point repeating it all here. Not dismissed even being a novice in a poor year.

ALDERWOOD 16/1 : As for the last two years he has been trained with the Festival in mind and what a two years they were, winning both times. Just the one prep this time round but cannot be ruled out in a weak year. The better ground and Spring air will see him run well but maybe not good enough to take it.

SIZING EUROPE 20/1 : Terrific horse in his day but Father Time has caught up with him and is readily passed over now.

MODULE 20/1 : A very lightly raced seven year old being to post just eleven times between France and the UK. Beaten just over four lengths behind Benefficient in the Jewson over two and a half miles at last year’s Festival, he lacks a bit of pace and can fairly belt the odd fence. He goes very well on a stiff track with give in the ground and the softer the better over this minimum trip will see him in with a shout. Beat Dodging Bullets the last day at Newbury having looked a sitting duck all the way up the straight and the way he rallied had to be admired. Module should be a lot lower in the betting in what is a poor Champion Chase. It is possible that all his requirements might be prevailing here so he is a serious player.

WISHFULL THINKING 33/1 : Has a very good course record and was third in this event last season, albeit beaten a long way. An eleven year old now , a place is the very best he can hope for again.

SAVELLO 50/1 : Looks outclassed.

ASTRACAD 100/1 : Looks outclassed.

Summary : A far from vintage renewal of this great race. Sprinter Sacre must be opposed on two counts, his heart problem and his price. I have it narrowed down to Benefficient, Al Ferof and Module. The pace is likely to be frenetic and those strong stayers can fight it out. I suggest a one point win on Benefficient, and a half point win on the other two at the available prices. It might be tempting to do a few exacta’s on the day.

1. Benefficient, 2. MODUE, 3, AL FEROF.


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