Cheltenham Festival News
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Cheltenham Festival pointers to be found at Newbury

Newbury’s card on Saturday provides one of the last opportunities for horses to test their Cheltenham Festival credentials for two of the meeting’s big chases.

The Game Spirit Chase will be a pointer towards the Queen Mother Champion Chase, while there could be Gold Cup clues in the offing in the Denman Chase.

Sire de Grugy
© Racehorse Photos
Sire de Grugy

Starting with the two-mile Game Spirit Chase and reigning Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy is primed to make his first appearance of the season.

Sire De Grugy has been absent due to a hip problem and has not been seen in action since winning at Sandown at the end of April. Trainer Gary Moore reports the horse to be in good enough shape to do himself justice, but expects him to improve for the run.

What connections and punters will be hoping for is a sign of encouragement from Sire De Grugy. If Sire De Grugy can show up in the same way Sprinter Sacre did on his comeback, before lack of race fitness eventually told, then that should put him spot on for the Festival.

However, he’s not going to have it all his own way as it should be a test with a couple of interesting other entries in a maximum field of six.

© Racehorse Photos

Uxizandre finished second in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival last year before winning at Aintree. He then had the subsequent dual Grade One winner Dodging Bullets back in third when winning the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November. Heavy ground was attributed for his disappointing run at Leopardstown over Christmas. Jockey Tony McCoy is keen to win a Champion Chase on Uxizandre, who also has a Festival entry in the Ryanair Chase.

Like Uxizandre, Mr Mole is owned by JP McManus and is set to line up on Saturday. Mr Mole has won three on the spin since falling in the Grand Annual Chase at the Festival last year and front-running tactics have made a big difference. Paul Nicholls is hopeful of a big run.

Nicholls’ other Game Spirit entry Vibrato Valtat is likely to go to Warwick instead, while Upsilon Bleu and Karinga Dancer have a bit to find on the other three.

As for the Denman Chase, Harry Topper bids to win for the second year in a row. However, he is dependent on testing ground and he is unlikely to head to the Festival regardless of the outcome on Saturday.

Holywell is an interesting entry after winning over three miles plus at the Festival last season before taking the Grade One Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree. McCoy immediately then put him forward as a Gold Cup contender for 2015. This season, Holywell finished third to Hennessey Gold Cup and BetBright Cup Chase winner Many Clouds before unseating his rider behind Sam Winner at Aintree in December. Jonjo O’Neill’s charge needs a positive performance before heading to Cheltenham.

O’Neill also has Taquin Du Seuil in the race. Taquin Du Seuil won the JLT at the Festival 12 months ago, but was second in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and then pulled up behind Gold Cup favourite Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on his last two runs. Taquin Du Seuil would look more likely to be a Ryanair Chase contender than Gold Cup runner at this stage.

Exciting novice Coneygree is two from two over fences and will be bidding to book his ticket to the Gold Cup with victory. Though the RSA Chase is still his main Festival target, a win on Saturday could see him tackle the big boys at Cheltenham in March.

Houblon Des Obeaux has run two fine races in defeat behind Many Clouds and the progressive The Young Master this season. He has carried big weights in both races after finishing ninth in the Gold Cup last season behind Lord Windermere. His jockey Aidan Coleman hopes the horse can mix it with the best.

Unioniste’s run will likely determine whether the Gold Cup or the Grand National will be his spring target, while Double Ross, Itoldyou and Rajdhani Express seem to be making up the numbers.

It’s going to be a fascinating pair of races on Saturday and the results could see a major shake-up of the betting markets for the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup.