Captain can give punters some early festive cheer
SIRE DE GRUGY is favourite in most bookmakers' lists to give Gary and Jamie Moore a famous Tingle Creek Chase triumph in Sprinter Sacre's absence at Sandown this afternoon.
Successful in the Celebration Chase over course and distance in April, Sire De Grugy is a smart operator, though it is hardly a great reflection on this illustrious BetVictor-sponsored Grade One that he is deemed good enough to head the market.
While he has now got an official mark of 169, the suspicion that he isn't quite deserving of such a figure is borne in the way that the 150-rated Kid Cassidy readily brushed him aside at Cheltenham in November.
Sure, Sire De Grugy was conceding 10lbs, but he should have still had plenty in hand at that and the theory that he was in front too soon doesn't wash either.
He only led two-out and, if he was a proper 169 horse, he would have seen it out from there.
When he won the Celebration, he beat an out-of-sorts Finians Rainbow. His reappearance victory off 161 at Chepstow was visually impressive, but question marks linger over the form and the notion that his current mark overestimates him was confirmed at Cheltenham.
That second-class Grade One horses Somersby and Kauto Stone are also to the fore in the market is a further indictment of the quality on offer.
Captain Conan is the one horse with the potential to save the race's blushes and, for me, he is tremendous value to do so at 5/2.
Still just a six-year-old, Nicky Henderson's handsome gelding effectively only gets a run because of Sprinter Sacre's late withdrawal. However, he is a pretty serious operator himself, with three Grade One victories to his name as novice last term, including two at Sandown.
It may be that his lack of a prep run is seen as a negative, but it is surely significant that he beat Sire De Grugy on his return at Cheltenham in November 2012.
On that occasion, he was also making his fencing bow, yet still easily accounted for the Moores' horse, which had the double advantage of having had a run and a successful chasing experience under its belt.
On his next start at the course, Captain Conan made all to slam Paul Nicholls' highly regarded Henry VIII fancy Hinterland and Third Intention in the 2012 edition of the Grade One. He then struggled past Third Intention to follow up in the Scilly Isles, when the two-mile-five-furlong trip on testing ground stretched him on his first run for two months.
That performance hinted that he might not be suited by such a dour test and his laboured fourth to Benefficient in the Jewson Chase at Cheltenham added to the theory.
Granted, he ran out a facile winner of the Manifesto Chase over two-and-a-half-miles at Aintree in April, but Liverpool on quick ground is a world removed from Sandown or Cheltenham in the mud.
With the going good on the chase course today and the opposition inferior, Barry Geraghty will probably seek to replicate the aggressive, front-running tactics that he employed en route to Captain Conan's stylish Henry VIII rout 12 months ago.
If he does – and even if he opts for a more patient approach – the result should be the same. Class invariably wins out.
Jonjo O'Neill's JP McManus-owned Champagne At Tara is also fancied in the novice hurdle.
A case could be made for many of the nine runners in this two-miler, but AP McCoy's four-year-old mount was advanced enough to finish second to the smart Very Wood in a point-to-point back in March, before landing a Newton Abbot bumper in style on his debut for O'Neill.
He wasn't unduly punished when fourth to the classy Red Sherlock at Cheltenham on his only other start last month, so he should improve again to collect on his hurdle bow now.
There is plenty Irish interest over the big fences at Aintree, but the other horse that holds some appeal today is Gunner Fifteen at Chepstow.
Already a point-to-point winner for Adrian Maguire at Inch in March, Noel Fehily's strong-galloping partner made a big impression when taking a Uttoxeter bumper from the front for Fergal O'Brien. He is one to keep on side for now.
Best Bet: Captain Conan