Does Bullets have the ammunition for Champion Chase glory?
Dodging Bullets had the right ammunition to land Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, but the big question now is whether he has got extra in his armoury to be a live contender for the Queen Mother Champion Chase honours at the Cheltenham Festival next March.
Coral make him a 10/1 (from 20s) for the 2m showpiece in which the two current market leaders, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy, are both currently on the sidelines.
If the “big two” don’t recover in time to make the line-up then it will become a wide open renewal and the door will be well and truly open for an up-and-coming young chaser to capture the Grade 1 prize.
Dodging Bullets is certainly that judged on his win in the Tingle Creek at Sandown where he jumped well and stayed on strongly to beat Somersby by 2 1/2 lengths.
The six-year-old gave Paul Nicholls his ninth winner in the race, and is just a year older than Master Minded who landed the contest for the Ditcheat handler in 2008 before going on to a secure a second Queen Mother success in 2009.
The problem is that Dodging Bullets has nowhere near the brilliance of Master Minded (who was rated 186 at the time), and won the Tingle Creek off a rating of just 158.
To put it into context, Sprinter Sacre was rated 168 when winning the Tingle Creek on the bridle by 15 lengths in 2012 before going on to land the Queen Mother and is now rated 188, and last year’s winner Sire De Grugy was rated 169 when beating Somersby by four lengths and is now officially rated 172 after landing the big one at Cheltenham back in March.
That suggests that Dodging Bullets will have to improve considerably if he is going to land the Queen Mother next March.
The other niggling doubt is the son of Dubawi has started the last two seasons off in good form before flopping in the spring.
However, Nicholls believes that he is partly to blame for that and has now found the key to training Dodging Bullets.
He said: “He’s always been a hard horse to train as he’s very buzzy. The Champion Chase will be our aim now. He’s getting stronger and better and we know how to train him now. We’ll get him at his best at Cheltenham and he should be there with a chance.”
Given Nicholls’ tremendous record with 2m chasers it could well be that he will get further improvement out of Dodging Bullets and have him spot on come Champion Chase day, and if that is the case then he could be a big player if Sprinter and current champion Sire De Grugy are absent.