Full speed ahead for Sprinter
Nicky Henderson finally unleashes Sprinter Sacre whom he takes to Sandown on Saturday for the Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase.
But the latest renewal of the Grade One event promises to be yet another chapter in the battle between title rivals Henderson and Paul Nicholls, who sends Sanctuaire into play.
The pair were born in France six years ago, just three weeks apart, and are unbeaten in the eight races over fences in which they have run to date.
Five of those belong to Sprinter Sacre, the probable odds-on favourite who romped home in the Arkle Trophy and later at Aintree.
He has drawn favourable comparisons with Remittance Man, Henderson's brilliant chaser of the early 90s, and the trainer decided not to risk him on soft ground at the Cheltenham Open meeting.
"I wanted to run him at Cheltenham, as the race slotted in well, but in that ground I was worried about running him with only three weeks before the Tingle Creek," said Henderson.
"We don't know if he goes in very soft ground, as he hasn't been in it before, so we'll have to see.
"The soft ground will not be ideal but there are only three targets for him this season - the Tingle Creek, the Victor Chandler and the Queen Mother - so we have to take our chances.
"He is a classy, easy-moving horse which would suggest he would handle the soft ground.
"I do love the two-mile races at Sandown and I think with Sprinter Sacre and Sanctuaire taking each other on, it should be one of the great races."
Regular partner Barry Geraghty has in the past described Sprinter Sacre as an "aeroplane".
The jockey said: "You have to respect Sanctuaire after the performance he put up at Sandown Park in April and I think that he poses Sprinter Sacre's biggest test yet.
"As for the soft ground, hopefully it won't cause any problems, but it's one of those things you don't know until on the day. It's going to be an interesting race.
"He's in great form, schooling, working well. All the signs are good so I'm really looking forward to it.
"Sanctuaire went off quick in the Celebration Chase and I imagine that's what they will do again. Sprinter Sacre will enjoy the speed, too, so it's going to be exciting.
"His performance back in the spring in Sandown was very good in a good time on soft ground. He has to be respected - he beat Somersby by 17 lengths.
"It's very hard to find fault in it, but Sprinter Sacre is one of the most exciting horses in Britain.
"He's definitely the best since Moscow Flyer and time will tell if he can be better, but he's potentially top class," Geraghty told At The Races.
Nicholls has already won the Tingle Creek eight times, with the victory of Sizing Europe 12 months ago interrupting an unbeaten sequence of six.
The champion trainer looked to be running out of patience with Sanctuaire over hurdles as he became increasingly reluctant to race.
However, he was rejuvenated by a change to fences and has already won twice over the course and distance, including in open company in the Celebration Chase.
Nicholls said: "We're happy with his preparation. He's in good shape and we're looking forward to it.
"We know that racing has a habit of turning these things up but it's a good race. We're happy and Nicky's happy with his horse."
Jockey Ruby Walsh is also excited by the prospect of the showdown between the big two.
He said: "He was good last year and has done nothing wrong, he's earned the right to have a go.
"I've always been of the opinion that, with the exception of Big Buck's, every horse is beatable, so we'll take him (Sprinter Sacre) on."
Alan King feels he has nothing to lose, and decent place prize-money to gain, by saddling Kumbeshwar to take on the big two.
"Kumbeshwar will obviously find this a lot tougher than when he won at Haydock last time, but he is a hard horse to place and there is good prize-money on offer, with £12,800 for third, so we are giving it a go," the Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk.