The beast to back in Cheltenham’s tricky Champion Chase market

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Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty can gush all they like about Sprinter Sacre’s comeback, but the 2013 Cheltenham Champion Chaser’s inability to win a mediocre, five-runner race hasn’t had punters rushing to get behind him.

The nine-year-old remains the favourite at 5/2 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but has been eased half a point from the 2/1 quoted after Geraghty took him for a spin around Newbury over Xmas.

Henderson confirmed that Sprinter Sacre won’t compete again before the Festival, stating that sending him to Newbury for the Game Spirit, where 2014 Champion Chaser Sire De Grugy is set to make his return from a nine-month absence, would be ‘suicide’.

The way Dodging Bullets reeled in Henderson’s stable star in the Clarence House at Ascot strongly suggests he needed the run to regain race fitness, but the fact that he didn’t jump nearly as fluently as the Sprinter Sacre of old is a big negative.

With his handler also conceding that the horse’s post-race bleeding was ‘not ideal’, it’s hard to get too excited about the three-time course winner’s Prestbury Park price, particularly in relation to 4/1 second favourite Sire De Grugy.

Gary Moore’s inmate had to work extremely hard to capture punters’ imagination last season; despite winning four of his five races prior to Cheltenham, Sire De Grugy went off at meaty 11/4 odds in what proved to be a poor Champion Chase renewal.

Moore’s prize asset then capped a cracking campaign with a routine three-and-a-quarter length win, at the more accurate price of 2/7, in Sandown’s Grade 1 Celebration Chase back in April.

Sire De Grugy hasn’t been seen on a racecourse since, but murmurs coming out of the Moore camp during this term suggest his muscle problems haven’t had an adverse long-term effect on the horse’s quality.

A good showing in the Game Spirit should see Sire De Grugy shorten for the Champion Chase, although the racing fraternity’s underrating of Moore’s French-bred star means he stands little chance of claiming favouritism before the big day.

Paul Nicholls’ Dodging Bullets is also a 4/1 shot for the Queen Mother-monikered event, with Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever, who is expected to drop back in trip after failing over 3m in Kempton’s King George on Boxing Day, an interesting contender at 8/1.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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