Sprinter Sacre storming to Champion Chase glory at Cheltenham last timePICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Sprinter Sacre into the unknown for Melling
JUMP racing's brightest star Sprinter Sacre steps into unknown territory in one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the season against Cue Card and Flemenstar in Friday's Melling Chase, but connections believe he can cope with the step up in trip.
The crack two-miler, who stretched his unbeaten run over fences to eight with a stunning win in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month, ran over 2m3½f when second in a novice hurdle at Ascot in 2010.
Since then he has been campaigned at two miles and to devastating effect.
Bookmakers do not think running over 2m4f in the Melling will stop the Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old, who is 1-3.
Henderson, who trains Sprinter Sacre for Caroline Mould, said: "We said we'd stick to two miles, but we sat back after Cheltenham and thought about this. Barry [Geraghty] is perfectly happy about it. Of course they are two completely different tracks, but he keeps bouncing up that hill at Cheltenham, even in soft ground, so I can't help feeling he stays.
"His pedigree says he will, it's just his style of racing that was influencing us before. I'm sure he can be persuaded to go to sleep a little bit longer. We'll see. I'm not going to stick my head out.
"This race is most certainly stronger than the Champion Chase and I'd nearly say it's the best race of the season, which is scary enough."
Ryanair winner Cue Card got to within seven lengths of his mighty rival in last season's Arkle and his camp are keen to make the Melling as testing as possible.
Colin Tizzard: trains Cue CardPICTURE: Martin Lynch
"I'm really excited about the race," said trainer Colin Tizzard. "We wouldn't have taken on Sprinter Sacre over two miles but he's coming up to our distance now.
"If there are any flaws in his armour we'll try to find them. We're not afraid to take him on over two and a half and we will make it a stiff test for him."
Cue Card is a 7-1 chance, the same price as Irish raider Flemenstar who looked a big contender for major prizes this season, but is on somewhat of a recovery mission.
He won his first two starts of the season, but was beaten - both times as favourite - when tried at three miles on his last two outings.
Trainer Peter Casey said: "We know Cue Card is a very good horse and Sprinter Sacre is an exceptional one, but our horse is very good too and we’re happy to be taking them on.
"We'll have to see how it goes and how things pan out, but we’re looking forward to the race. It will be fantastic if he wins but if he performs well we'll be happy."