Road to Cheltenham

 
Bill Esdaile
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SOME were encouraged by Sprinter Sacre’s return to the racecourse earlier this month, while others were left somewhat cold by the speed at which he stopped up Ascot’s home straight.

I guess I sit somewhere between the two camps. I was impressed with how he travelled through most of the race, but was concerned by the lack of any finishing kick as I’m not sure fitness was an issue. Nicky Henderson’s stable star is a best-priced 3/1 favourite with the sponsors for the Betway Champion Chase at the Festival, but I’m prepared to give that a miss.

Sire De Grugy is set to reappear at Newbury next weekend in the Game Spirit and a decent performance in Berkshire will see him wrestle back favouritism from Sprinter Sacre. However, he too is on the comeback trail and doesn’t represent value.

Dodging Bullets is the two-mile revelation of the season to date, but his previous poor Festival showings are enough to make 9/2 seem unappealing.

So, the two that interest me the most are Champagne Fever at around 8/1 and Irish raider HIDDEN CYCLONE at 25/1. The former seems to reserve his best for the Festival in March with wins in both the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ on his CV. In fact, if Western Warhorse hadn’t lunged late in last year’s Arkle, he’d be returning for a Festival four-timer.

He is certainly respected, but is difficult to train and Hidden Cyclone represents better value. ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s 10-year-old was second in last year’s Ryanair Chase when his stamina seemed to give way late on and he jumped with real zest around Cheltenham.

He is due to run in Sunday’s Tied Cottage and I expect Betway’s 25/1 to disappear if he puts in another bold show.

■ Pointers…
HIDDEN CYCLONE (25/1) Betway Champion Chase