Sire De Grugy odds-on for welcome Spirit return
Sire De Grugy will face a maximum of five rivals on his belated reappearance in Saturday's Game Spirit Chase at Newbury, and Gary Moore has expressed himself delighted with his reigning champion chaser.
In Sprinter Sacre's absence last term, Sire De Grugy morphed into an indomitable force in his own right, an odds-on defeat to Kid Cassidy at Cheltenham in November 2013 the only time he was beaten in nine successive starts under the trainer's son Jamie.
However, the nine-year-old developed a physical problem in his hindquarters that has delayed his return to action. Despite his absence, he has been installed at odds of just 4/6 to win Saturday's two-mile Grade Two, with Paul Nicholls' star novice Vibrato Valtat among five potential rivals.
"Sire De Grugy did his final piece of serious work this morning ahead of Saturday's Game Spirit and I'm delighted with what I saw," Moore declared yesterday.
"He's ready for Newbury now, but he'll come on for the run and there's still a little bit left to work on. Jamie rode him and he was really pleased.
"Sire De Grugy will do nothing between now and the race. I'm not worried about a small field as long as there's some pace."
The contenders for the £50,000 contest were only unveiled yesterday after it was reopened on Monday following a lack of entries.
As well as Vibrato Valtat, which also has the option of the Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick the same day, Nicholls could run JP McManus' reformed Mr Mole, with the Alan King-trained Uxizandre also engaged.
In the Denman Chase, Richard Johnson will fall in for the ride on Mark Bradstock's progressive novice Coneygree should AP McCoy be unavailable, with Jonjo O'Neill potentially set to claim McCoy for the one-time Gold Cup favourite Holywell.
O'Neill's Irish Grand National hero Shutthefrontdoor is another with the Gold Cup on its radar following a smooth comeback win at Carlisle in November. Sunday's Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown was under consideration for McManus' eight-year-old, but that is no longer an option.
"He's just not quite there yet," said McManus' racing manager Frank Berry of Shutthefrontdoor's absence from the Grade One entries.
"He's just a bit behind where you'd want him to be for a race like that. We decided that he could do with another two weeks so Jonjo will be on the lookout for another race for him - I don't know which one it will be.
"He's in the Gold Cup and the Grand National. If he's going to go to Cheltenham he'll have to have another run somewhere."
Willie Mullins has Wicklow Brave, Daneking and Lucky Bridle to choose from in the card's Betfair Hurdle, and he has also put the exciting mare Vroum Vroum Mag in the Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas the same day. Robert Tyner's classy McManus-owned Whatwillwecallher is among her potential rivals in the two-miler.