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Is Sire De Grugy the one to beat in Champion Chase?

Sire De Grugy got his season back on track with a superb weight-carrying display in the Rifles Handicap Chase at Chepstow, and is now 3/1 joint-favourite (from 6s) with Coral for what promises to be a mouth-watering renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Trained by Gary Moore, this gelding was having just his second start after injury, and oozed class to concede 20lb and upwards to his rivals.

The nine-year-old jumped superbly throughout in the hands of Jamie Moore and, after cruising to the front two from home, only had to be shaken-up to go clear approaching the last and score by seven lengths.

It was a tremendous effort considering Sire De Grugy had unseated just two weeks earlier in the Game Spirit at Newbury after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, and although many were quick to crab the performance as it was “just a handicap” I am not in that camp.

Sire De Grugy beat some useful sorts with consummate ease in testing conditions and, if his name had been Sprinter Sacre, then pundits would have been drooling over the way he had gone about his business.

The fact that he is not trained by a high-profile and fashionable trainer means that Sire De Grugy’s efforts often don’t get the recognition they deserve, and to me he looks to have outstanding claims of retaining his crown in the Champion Chase on Wednesday, March 11th.

Indeed, it could be argued that Sire De Grugy should be clear favourite for the 2m contest, given that he won it so impressively 12 months ago and there are doubts surrounding his rivals.

Sprinter Sacre, who romped to a facile Champion Chase success in 2013, has has just one outing since being off the track for 386 days after being found to be suffering from an irregular hearbeat and still has questions to answer.

Although the nine-year-old ran well to be beaten three lengths by Dodging Bullets in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, it was an effort which was well-below his best.

Sprinter also finished 21 lengths in front of Grey Gold in that contest, and Sire De Grugy gave that horse 20lbs and a comprehensive thrashing at Chepstow.

The aforementioned Dodging Bullets has also failed to shine in previous visits to the Festival and, although the Paul Nicholls trained gelding has shown improved form this season, it’s hard not to forget that his form has tailed-off in the spring in previous years.

Ireland’s leading contender Champagne Fever is also dropping back in trip having been tried over a variety of distances, and been considered a Gold Cup contender at the start of the campaign.

The Willie Mullins trained gelding does have a tremendous record at the Festival, but has not been specifically trained for the Champion Chase and is now set to face the cream of 2m chasers.

So taking everything into account, I think Sire De Grugy is the one they all have to beat and has every chance becoming the first since Master Minded in 2008/09 to land back-to-back runnings of the contest.