Cheltenham 2015: Sire de Grugy to uncork Champagne
Defending champ looks just about capable of breaking Fever
When Master Minded won the Champion Chase as a five-year-old in 2008 there were few who would back against him dominating that race for three, four or even five more years.
He returned to win the race in 2009 but that's where the domination ended. When Sprinter Sacre blitzed Cheltenham's day two feature in 2013, he was immediately installed as a 1/2 favourite with BoyleSports to retain the crown 12 months later and you wouldn't have got a big price for three-in-a-row. He didn't even make last year's race.
Horses are the centre of attention at Cheltenham this week but we can sometimes take it for granted how difficult it is to get them here once, let alone year after year.
Sprinter Sacre is back to try and win back the title of Champion Chaser this year but on all evidence we have seen so far, he is only a shadow of his former self.
He cruised into contention on his eagerly anticipated return to action at Ascot in January but failed to show that electric spark that we had come accustomed too.
After being found to have a heart irregularity that kept him out for over a year, he was entitled to get tired but when he was found to have bled after Ascot as well, you'd have to have major concerns.
If Sprinter Sacre was 80 per cent the horse he was here two years ago, he'd win tomorrow afternoon, the only thing is, it's hard to say he is that.
Sire De Grugy was there to pick up the pieces last year and was a worthy champion in his own right, although his retention of the race looked in some doubt when it was initially feared that he was to be ruled out for the season back in November.
Thankfully, the hip injury he sustained having a routine roll, wasn't as bad as first feared and he returned at Newbury last month.
This year's Champion Chase is nothing if not competitive but it's also one that has clouds of doubt lingering over the major contenders.
Sire De Grugy's return at Newbury was extremely disappointing and eventually ended in him unseating Jamie Moore but a corn on his foot was pinpointed as the possible problem and new shoes to deal with it were found and Sire De Grugy hauled top weight around Chepstow in a handicap to put himself right back into contention.
Some question the route that has been taken. Running in a handicap just 19 days ago with that weight on his back but as Jamie Moore insists, this is a horse that thrives on racing and he is the tentative selection in a race where Dodging Bullets may just fall short of the standard required and Champagne Fever is expected to be just touched off again like he was 12 months ago in the Arkle.
It's a scenario on which I'd love to be wrong as Champagne Fever is a horse you couldn't but have a fondness for. Twice a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, he may have disappointed on occasion, but what a servant he has already been.
There's no doubt that connections have gone the right route in tackling the Champion Chase because two miles is the trip over which he has excelled at the meeting and his style of running could indeed mean he proves difficult to haul back.
However, Sire De Grugy is the champion and deserves the respect now that he appears to be back to himself and is expected to just deny the Mullins grey.
It could indeed be a day for a 'Sire double' as in the Cross Country race later on the card, the Paul Nicholls-trained Sire Collonges is the pick in what isn't a vintage year for Irish representation in the race.
The nine-year-old does have plenty of weight to contend with but his effort behind Balthazar King when last seen was good enough to suggest he can claim the most unique contest of the week although it would be an incredible story if the 14-year-old Uncle Junior was to go and win for the Willie and Patrick Mullins partnership.
Harry Fry suffered the blow of having to rule Rock On Ruby out of the World Hurdle but the trainer could get some compensation in the Coral Cup with Activial.
2.05pm Don Poli
3.20pm Sire De Grugy
4.00pm Sire Collonges
4.40pm Gwencily Berbas