Cheltenham Open Sunday – The Verdict

Cheltenham Open Sunday – The Verdict

It’s not often we get a big Sunday of racing in the UK but the final day of the Cheltenham Open really did have it all with some incredible races. We take a look over the big news of the day!

Sprinter Sacre Returns

The Shloer Chase was surely the race of the weekend with notable names including Mr Mole, Simply Ned, and not least the mighty Sprinter Sacre. It’s been a tough time for him and the yard in the last couple of years; without a win since April 2013, his form of P2P2 following his irregular heartbeat back at Kempton in the King George (which ended his unbeaten run over the larger obstacles) has led to calls for his retirement. We were among those briefly but we trusted in Nicky Henderson and his decision to run the horse, and we went as far as tipping and backing Sprinter Sacre at 5/2 last night.

That faith was repaid in buckets as Sprinter Sacre positively scooted up the hill, leaving the rest of the field in his wake and bringing back memories of days of old. It has to be noted that a lack of penalties meant he was receiving weight from all horses aside from Somersby, who finished a 14 length second, but even that provides a solid look to form which was on ground that was surely not ideal. His trainer has claimed the Tingle Creek (at Sandown Park on 5th December) is the “obvious” next choice and we can’t wait to see Sprinter out again.

His Queen Mother Champion Chase odds were slashed from 14/1 to a best of 5/1 with Sky Bet – and we’d be surprised if that lasted long given he’s just 3/1 with Bet365 and Paddy Power, and 4/1 with Ladbrokes who put their necks out (not for too long) with an initial quote of 6/1. Un De Sceaux has been pushed out slightly but remains strong at 13/8 best price, and with Dodging Bullets, Simonsig, Vibrato Valtat and Champagne Fever all in contention this could be one of the best Champion Chase’s you’ll ever see!

Sprinter Sacre Shloer Chase

Sprinter Sacre in the Shloer Chase © Channel 4 Racing

Faugheen Beaten

From a star being reignited to one being extinguished – OK, that’s an exaggeration, but Faugheen’s defeat came as a massive surprise to pretty much everyone, us included. His unbeaten record after 11 races went down as he was outbattled and outstayed by stablemate Nichols Canyon, who just kept finding enough to hold him up. With the winner 19lb worse off in the weights than a handicap, we expect it’s a combination of Faugheen underachieving and the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle winner improving. Bookmakers weren’t quick to act with plenty of pointing to the fact Faugheen was apparently carrying a bit of condition and will come on for the run, with Paddy Power’s initial 2/1 quote being cut to a stand out 15/8 for the Champion Hurdle which could look to be very generous come March.

The reasons for his defeat are, however, still all a guessing game. Mullins is making no excuses for his stable star unless he shows something amiss at home, and Ruby didn’t appear to do too much wrong either; he obviously expected him to saunter past on the bridle like he normally does. The time of 3 minutes 58 seconds suggests a medium pace, and Wicklow Brave was close behind, and it could be he’s just been outstayed in the ground, but connections will be hoping it was just a case of the run being needed and it’ll be interesting to see what price he is next time out.

As for Nichols Canyon, a best price of 6/1 with Sky Bet makes him second favourite for the Champion Hurdle. He only managed 3rd in the Neptune last year when well supported but improved in April and May to win two Grade 1 Novice 2m 4f hurdles easily, and the question is now whether he’s dropped back in trip. He was a winner over 14 and 15 furlongs on the flat and his options are now open for the season ahead.

Maputo Injury

We finish on a slightly solemn note. Maputo, who we fancied today for the opening Supreme Novices Trial, battled hard all the way up the hill to just find himself held by a head by Altior all the way to the line. He was found to be lame following the run and John Ferguson has now announced that he suffered a career ending injury and won’t race again, although he hopes he can recover sufficiently to be a work horse. He was a Group 3 winner on the flat at the Curragh and placed at Group 2 level over at Meydan, and with 4 wins from 5 starts over hurdles and a mark of 147 he was a very promising horse. He’s only 5 years old but we hope he has an enjoyable retirement ahead of him; we’re sure he’ll be well looked after.

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