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Sprinter Sacre still 50:50 to defend Champion Chase crown

The countdown is well and truly on for the Cheltenham Festival 2014 but the participation of Sprinter Sacre remains in doubt. The reigning Champion chaser is being closely monitored at his Lambourn stable and trainer Nicky Henderson expects to make a final decision within the next ten days.

The imposing gelding was unbeaten in ten starts over fences until being pulled up at Kempton in December. The problem was quickly diagnosed as an irregular heartbeat but appeared to right itself shortly afterwards.

Henderson and his team have taken every possible precaution in bringing the eight-year-old gradually back into work. He has worn a heart monitor throughout with test results relayed to Newmarket.

All of the signs have been good to this point but Henderson has stressed that there is still work to do before he can confirm his place in the line-up for this year’s Champion Chase. If he has any doubts about the horse’s well-being, he will have no hesitation in putting him away for next season.

His most important test could come at Newbury next weekend or Kempton the following Friday. He may be asked to jump a fence or two on the racecourse and a decision whether or not to press on to the festival will be made shortly afterwards.

Whatever happens in regard to Sprinter Sacre, Captain Conan will almost certainly line up in the Champion Chase and could be joined by Kid Cassidy. Both horses have been involved in trials this season against Sire De Grugy who would be the obvious form choice in Sprinter Sacre’s absence.

Kid Cassidy beat Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham in November, although their respective form has gone in different directions since. Gary Moore’s popular chestnut has won three Graded races culminating in his most impressive performance to date in the Clarence House Chase.

Kid Cassidy was tailed off last behind Benefficient at Leopardstown in December. Captain Conan has not been seen since finishing third to Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek Chase.