Great expectations: Sprinter Sacre brings a huge reputation to SandownPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Sprinter Sacre set for Sanctuaire showdown
TWO-TIME Tingle Creek champion Kauto Star is to parade before racing at Sandown on Saturday but great as the retired chasing hero's appeal is, the focus will almost entirely fall upon the horse who would be king of the chasers - Sprinter Sacre.
With a perfect five-from-five record in a novice chasing season which included a seven-length Arkle victory over Cue Card, Sprinter Sacre boasts a towering reputation and is already an evens favourite for the Sportingbet.com Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.
But, as Nicky Henderson said in Friday's Racing Post, a tougher start to the season than the Sportingbet.com Tingle Creek Chase would be difficult to find.
In the Paul Nicholls-trained Sanctuaire he faces a rival officially rated just 3lb his inferior and a progressive chaser who dealt out a 17-length thrashing of the capable Somersby on his final start of last season.
Over the last two weekends Nicholls and Henderson, the dominant forces in jumps racing, have traded big Saturday successes. Two weeks ago Nicholls' Silviniaco Conti was a suprise Betfair Chase winner over Long Run, while last weekend Henderson's Bobs Worth saw off revitalised veteran Tidal Bay in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
As in both those scraps Henderson's representative is the favourite and Nicholls said on Friday he, along with the hundreds of thousands of racing fans awaiting the clash, would only discover whether Sanctuaire has improved enough to go toe-to-toe with Sprinter Sacre once the Tingle Creek is well under way.
He said: "We are very happy with him. He's fit and well but it's a tough challenge. I have no idea how good he is. We can't tell until they run but it's a bit like Silviniaco Conti when he ran in the Charlie Hall."
"All our second-season horses have improved and if he has, he has a chance," he added, while acknowledging "it's going to be a challenge to beat Sprinter Sacre."
The Sandown turf will be covered overnight as temperatures continue to head south in the small hours, although clerk of the course Andrew Cooper predicted no problems if the forecasters were accurate.
He said: "We are covering up the whole of the stands' side of the course, and the racing lines on the bends and back straight. I've seen a range of forecasts, and the coldest is a dawn temperature of -1C and then rising to around 5C. If that's what we get, the covers should cope."
The ground on the chase course is expected to remain soft, good to soft in places, as it was on Friday, but over hurdles it could revert to soft, heavy in places.