Sprinter and Chandler Chase set for Cheltenham
Next Saturday's Argento Chase programme at Cheltenham will now feature the added bonus of Sprinter Sacre's final outing before the track's March Festival, after today's scheduled Victor Chandler Chase card at Ascot was lost to snow.
The Berkshire venue had an inspection planned for 4.30 yesterday, but made an early call to abandon after two inches of snow fell on the track up to midday. Officials from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) confirmed that the day's intended big race would be transferred to the Prestbury Park spread to form an eight-race card, meaning that the two-mile Grade One follows the lead of its Sandown equivalent two seasons ago.
In similar sub-zero circumstances then, the Tingle Creek Chase found a temporary home in the Cotswolds, with Noel Fehily deputising for the injured Ruby Walsh to record a breakthrough victory on Master Minded for Paul Nicholls.
Sprinter Sacre, a best priced 1/2 to replicate last season's sensational Arkle Trophy triumph in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, will lend further quality to what is known as trials day, with stablemate Bobs Worth also pencilled in for the Argento Chase.
Nicky Henderson's excellent Hennessy Gold Cup hero heads the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup ante-post market at 3/1, with only Willie Mullins' fellow dual Festival winner Sir Des Champs (5/1) splitting him and Henderson's Long Run (7/1), such a brilliant conqueror of Denman and Kauto Star in the showpiece event in 2011.
Nicholls' veteran Tidal Bay, which knocked the collective wind out of Irish Gold Cup ambitions by thwarting First Lieutenant, Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last month, has both the Argento and the Cleeve Hurdle as options next Saturday, though another showdown with Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar in the Irish Hennessy on February 9 is also being considered.
Today's other scheduled jumps meetings at Haydock and Taunton have also fallen to the elements, as did yesterday's two jumps and two Flat fixtures. One of those was at Lingfield, and the all-weather track, if it can still be loosely described as such, is the subject of an early inspection this morning, as is Kempton. The BHA announced that Haydock's Champion Hurdle trial would now take place at Doncaster next Saturday.
John 'Shark' Hanlon also revealed plans for Hidden Cyclone following a tame defeat in the Lexus Chase, confirming he would make his handicap debut in the Leopardstown Chase the same day. "The plan is for him to go to Leopardstown," Hanlon said.
"We'll get that race out of the way and see how he gets on before we make any definite plans, but, if he ran well, there is a nice race in Ascot (Betfair Ascot Chase) in the middle of February that we might have a look at."
Meanwhile, Richard Lee has revealed his 2011 Welsh National winner Le Beau Bai has been put down after a setback in his recovery from a broken pelvis.