With no sign this season as of yet and questions marks over the wellbeing of reigning champion chaser Dodging Bullets, the Grade One Clarence House chase on Saturday will surely determine who starts favourite for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham Festival 2016 in March.
The last three winners of the Ascot Grade One have gone on to follow up with victory at the mecca of jump racing, by claiming the two mile championship. Previous winners of this race include greats Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre.
The winner of this race in 2014 and former Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy goes in to this race nearly back to his best. Disappointing his army of fans last season with under par performances in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury when unseating his rider Jamie Moore, and in the Queen Mother at Cheltenham, when only finishing fourth behind Dodging Bullets.
His best days seemed behind him when a fall in the Melling Chase at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, ended a disappointing season. But the Gary Moore trained ten year old has rejuvenated himself this season with bouncing back from disappointment in finishing last in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, by adding another Grade One by winning a controversial Tingle Creek at Sandown after bumping in to consistent performer Special Tiara.
A rivalry rekindled with Sprinter Sacre in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas brought out the best in Sire De Grugy, where he put on a gutsy display, only going down to the Henderson inmate by three quarters of a length.
With Sire De Grugy looking back to near his best, and having the experience of winning this race before, he will hold a big chance on Saturday, if his jumping stands the test against the fierce gallop that is sure to be set.
The Willie Mullins express is set to touch down at Ascot on Saturday with star mare Vroum Vroum Mag set to make her UK debut in the OLBG Mares Hurdle. The French connection will continue later in the day, when punters will look to latch on to a quick fire double in the shape of the Cheltenham ante-post favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Un De Sceaux who runs in the Clarence House.
Last year’s Racing Post Arkle winner will go in to the race odds-on favourite and will be sure to go off favourite for the big race in March with a victory on Saturday. Some of his performances last season were breath taking, demonstrating a bold jumping and front running tactic which gave little chance to his rivals to land a blow. The downside to Un De Sceaux, is a vulnerability to fail to get his landing gear out in time. Last season on his chasing debut at Thurles when sent off long odds on favourite, he came down when well clear on the run for home.
This season in the Christmas feature at Leopardstown, Un De Sceaux again showed his tendency to be a bit vulnerable on the other side of his fences, when coming down when going well in front of the Paddy Power Chase, which was eventually won by old favourite Flemenstar.
If Un De Sceaux turns up in the mood which he showed at the back end of last season, he will be very tough to beat. The only time he has ever been defeated, is when he has fallen and if he irons out the mistakes, he could win by as far as he wants.
Paul Nicholls has a great record in this race and will look to follow up with another victory in the race he won last year with Dodging Bullets, when he sends out the dashing grey jumper Vibrato Valtat.
The seven year old has contested the best two mile chases this year and started off his season in convincing style by winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. Two poor performances followed in the Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid Chase, where he finished well behind eventual winners Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy respectively.
This race will be another tough test for the grey who was well behind Un De Sceaux in last year’s Racing Post Arkle. He will need to improve a lot to become a major player in this race. This could be the last time we see Vibrato Valtat run over the minimum distance, as his trainer Paul Nicholls has expressed his desire to run him over an extended trip and a possible tilt at the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Festival 2016 is being considered.
The presence of the former Champion Chaser and winner of this race in 2014 Sire De Grugy will give Un De Sceaux plenty to think about. Sire has returned to something near his best this season and will enjoy the fast run pace sure to be set by the Mullins horse.
Vibrato Valtat is almost certain to be ridden with restraint and will be found wanting for pace in my opinion when push comes to shove, along with Simply Ned and Traffic Fluide.
The big horse of the race is Un De Sceaux. He has never been beaten when completing his races and you can be sure he has been schooled well at home to iron out his landings and jumping. With the pace setting and trail blazing tactics that Ruby Walsh will be sure to imply here, I cannot see anything getting past Un De Sceaux, at a course that will suit his galloping style.
If he stands up, which I think he will, he wins!
TIP: 3 Pts Win – Un De Sceaux 4/7
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