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Sprinter on the drift for his long-awaited Ascot return

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Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre, says he will not run the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase victor for a first time since he pulled up at Kempton the following Christmas if the ground does get too testing at Ascot on Saturday

Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre, says he will not run the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase victor for a first time since he pulled up at Kempton the following Christmas if the ground does get too testing at Ascot on Saturday

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Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre, says he will not run the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase victor for a first time since he pulled up at Kempton the following Christmas if the ground does get too testing at Ascot on Saturday

Persistent rainfall is threatening the appearance of British racing's two marquee jumps stars on Saturday, to the point that Sprinter Sacre is now as big as 7/4 to win on his eagerly-awaited Ascot return.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has reiterated that his Stan James Champion Hurdle second favourite The New One will run in Haydock's Grade Two trial, regardless of the ground conditions.

However, with the going heavy and inclement weather forecast to continue this week, it remains to be seen whether Faugheen's main market rival will get the opportunity to justify odds of 1/6, after just six other vastly inferior entries were belatedly unveiled for the race yesterday.

Larne handler Stuart Crawford is responsible for two of the five other contenders. His Strongpoint is a 143-rated 11-year-old that has won three times in Scotland since December 2013, while the nine-year-old Trucking Along (130) has won twice there since the previous November.

Dan Skelton's Bertimont and Don McCain's Desert Cry share a rating of 149, the closest any of the quintet have to The New One's mark of 167. Ominously, Bertimont finished most of 20 lengths behind The New One at Cheltenham before Christmas.

The official going for Ascot's Clarence House Chase fixture is now being given as soft and it appears to be in less danger of falling, despite 12mm of overnight rain yesterday easing conditions from good to soft.

Nicky Henderson has stressed from the outset that he would not run the breathtaking 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase victor for a first time since he pulled up at Kempton the following Christmas if the ground does get too testing.

Sprinter Sacre's recovery from an irregular heartbeat has been reported to be going well recently, but Henderson is not keen to subject him to such an arduous test after his long lay-off.

As a result, having been odds-on on Monday to make a winning comeback in the Grade One, the once mighty nine-year-old drifted repeatedly yesterday to as big as 7/4, the same price as his Paul Nicholls-trained market rival Dodging Bullets, which Noel Fehily has been pencilled in to ride with Sam Twiston-Davies due to partner The New One should Haydock survive.

Willie Mullins' Dial-A-Bet Chase winner Twinlight is expected to line out at Ascot and the Mick Channon-trained 2012 winner Somersby is also likely to run.

Nonetheless, the £125,000 event will lose much of its lustre should Sprinter Sacre not grace the stage under Barry Geraghty.

Irish Independent