sport

No track worries for Sire team

Gary Moore is confident a return to Cheltenham will not be an issue for Sire De Grugy in the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase.

With Nicky Henderson's reigning champion Sprinter Sacre the biggest absentee from this year's entire Festival after suffering a heart condition earlier this season, the two-mile chasing division has gone from being a one-horse show to a wide-open affair.

Sire De Grugy has undoubtedly taken up the mantle as the one to beat following victories in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton and the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, with each effort more impressive than the last in the hands of the trainer's son, Jamie.

The eight-year-old's one defeat this season was at Prestbury Park, however, when beaten by Nicky Henderson's fellow Champion Chase contender Kid Cassidy, and he was also behind the champion trainer's other leading hope, Captain Conan, in novice company at the track in November 2012.

Moore said: "The horse is fine. I wouldn't say he's better than he's been all season, but I think he's as good as he was going into the race at Ascot. Hopefully that will be good enough.

"Obviously I would prefer it if there was more give in the ground, but we can't help what the ground is and we'll get on with it.

"I think people are trying to find ways to get him beat and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I'm not worried about the track.

"His jumping has been so much better this year. He's matured and having Jamie ride him makes it better all round.

"Whatever happens, he's had a great season already. He's won two Grade Ones and a Grade Two so he's done his bit.

"He probably didn't get the credit he deserved earlier on this season but he has done now.

"Sprinter Sacre was a beast last year but that's racing. One day you're up there, the next day you're down."

Head lad Corky Brown has long told anyone who would listen that Captain Conan is the best horse in the Henderson yard.

And with Sprinter Sacre at home in his stable, Henderson relies on Captain Conan and Kid Cassidy to keep the two-mile crown at Seven Barrows.

Captain Conan was sent off 7-4 joint-favourite with Sire De Grugy for the Tingle Creek, his first run since landing a Grade One at Aintree last April.

However, he was beaten seven and a quarter lengths and has been sidelined since.

Henderson revealed that Captain Conan was suffering from a "clinical problem" afterwards and there is growing confidence the seven-year-old can turn the tables on Moore's runner.

"He is better now than when last we saw him," said Henderson.

"He has done everything we have asked of him. We went to Sandown for the Tingle Creek and got beat, but I've got to say, jumping the second-last, he looked certain to nearly go and win.

"There was nothing physically wrong with him, it was just a clinical thing that we found afterwards. His mineral levels had gone upside down.

"He is a good horse, he runs well fresh and we've got him right. He has worked well and schooled well, and has had two racecourse gallops - everything's been right and I would have to admit he'd be one of my A-team for the week. I am serious about that.

"The two horses that have beaten Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham have actually been Kid Cassidy and Captain Conan. Between the two of them we have to try and do it again.

"Sire De Grugy is the best, without Sprinter Sacre - I'd give the world to get him back into this race, because he's in a different league, I think.

"Sire De Grugy has been very good, but there is just this issue with him about Cheltenham.

"I can see why Gary Moore says he's not worried, but he has been beaten twice round there."

The Irish challenge is headed by Arvika Ligeonniere, who has struck four times at Grade One level but has undoubtedly shown his absolute best on right-handed tracks.

Willie Mullins' charge was pulled up after running no sort of race in last year's Arkle Trophy, but his trainer is hopeful of a better showing 12 months on.

Mullins said: "He was disappointing last year in the Arkle. We're hoping we can put that behind us, but the soft ground we anticipated for him hasn't materialised.

"Going left-handed probably isn't ideal, but we're hoping he can overcome that and run well in an open race.

"Hopefully he'll be involved."

Henry de Bromhead saddles Cheltenham favourite Sizing Europe and Grade One winner Special Tiara.

Sizing Europe has won the Arkle and Champion Chase and has filled the runner-up spot in this race for the last two years, but disappointed at Leopardstown last time and is getting on as a 12-year-old.

De Bromhead said: "His record round Cheltenham is second to none.

"We decided when Sprinter Sacre was out to commit to the Champion Chase. He has such a good record over the course and distance.

"Obviously he's 12 now, but we'll see. If he recaptures the form shown against Sprinter Sacre at Punchestown (last season), we'd be delighted.

"The run over Christmas was disappointing, I think my tactics were wrong, basically, but hopefully we can get it right at Cheltenham.

"If he could repeat his run in the race last year he'd run very well.

"With Special Tiara, the better the ground, the better he'll run. He has some good form with Sire De Grugy and some of those guys, so I think he has a really good chance.

"They both go there with live chances, I'm very hopeful with both of them."

The fourth and final Irish-trained runner is last year's Arkle runner-up Baily Green, who is bound to have been trained to the minute by master trainer Mouse Morris.

Big-race jockey David Casey said: "I'm looking forward to Baily Green. The weather forecast looks good for him because the more the ground dries the better.

"He ran a cracking race to finish second to Simonsig in the Arkle last year.

"I think Simonsig would be favourite if he was in the race and if Baily Green can repeat his Arkle performance, he must have a good chance."

Paul Nicholls decided to split his pair of star two-mile novices, with Dodging Bullets running in the Arkle and Hinterland taking on the seasoned campaigners.

"He's won two good races over two miles at Sandown. He's a winner at Cheltenham. He goes well fresh and and that's why we didn't run him on bad ground in the middle of winter," Nicholls told Betfair.

"I took him to Wincanton the other morning and he jumped eight fences, went twice down the back straight, because he hasn't run for a little while. He did that very well and he's in good shape.

"You look at some of the others - Arvika Legeonniere at around 6-1 will end up in the car park because he goes right-handed. It looks like he'll be in trouble going left -handed.

"Baily Green was a big price last year when he was second to Nicky's horse in the Arkle and Kid Cassidy did beat Sire De Grugy (at Cheltenham) but he was getting 10lb - he but he was getting 10lb - he obviously does go well at Cheltenham, but then you are talking about Hinterland.

"I think he's in the mix and worth a shot.

"He's a really exciting two-mile chaser."

The Mick Channon-trained Somersby was runner-up behind Sire De Grugy in the