De Grugy facing Chepstow test
Views from connections ahead of Sunday's John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase at Chepstow.
Jamie Moore riding Sire De Grugy
Gary Moore is eager to see how Sire De Grugy fares on his reappearance at Chepstow on Sunday before mapping out any plans for the season
The 10-year-old shoulders top weight in the John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase as he seeks his first win since an emotional success in the Tingle Creek Chase last December.
Sire De Grugy, winner of the 2014 Champion Chase at Cheltenham, was out of luck in four subsequent outings last term, finding Sprinter Sacre too good on three occasions and having to settle for second behind Un De Sceaux on his other run.
Moore reports his charge to be as well as ever, but admits he is far from certain as to whether Sire De Grugy remains a Champion Chase contender.
"This weekend's race is over nearer to two and a half miles and we will know where we stand with him afterwards," Moore told Betway.
"Whether or not he still has the gears to be competitive in a Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, only time will tell.
"He certainly doesn't seem to have lost any speed, though. When I turn him and Dutch Masterpiece out in the paddock, he normally wins the sprint to the other side and that horse was beaten a nostril in a competitive sprint at Ascot.
"The reason for heading to Chepstow is that he likes it there, having won at the venue twice already.
"In all probability, he should also get his preferred ground there too. So, we will hold off making any firm plans for him until we get this out of the way."
Sire De Grugy faces nine rivals including Punchestown Festival winner Irish Cavalier and Voix D'Eau and Art Mauresque, who finished first and second in a Cheltenham Grade Two back in April.
The latter's trainer Paul Nicholls said: "He had a really good season last year and ran some really good races. He won a really good novice chase at Cheltenham in the autumn and ran in lots of top chases.
"He was sixth in the Paddy Power on ground that was probably soft enough for him and was just touched off at Cheltenham in the April meeting.
"He's already won a valuable chase this season at Newton Abbot, where he basically made all the running with top weight and won nicely. He's improved a lot physically during the summer and loves good ground."
Nicholls appears the key to the totepool Persian War Novices' Hurdle as he fields El Bandit and Bagad Bihoue in the Grade Two heat.
The Ditcheat handler is hoping El Bandit can continue on an upward curve, with the five-year-old having rattled off a hat-trick of wins prior to a summer break.
"He's won his last three and is probably the most improved horse in training," said Nicholls.
"He started off finishing last of nine in a bumper at Wincanton, running absolutely deplorably. I always thought he was a decent horse but mentally at home he was so immature, so we could never get him right.
"But he had a couple of experience runs just to try and get his head right, finishing eighth and then third, and I thought the penny was beginning to drop and then he won three races on the trot very nicely.
"Last time at Fontwell he won with a double penalty and he's now rated 138. This has been his target and it's a big task, but he loves good ground."
French import Bagad Bihoue arrives with four straight victories to his credit while Philip Hobbs' No Comment features among the 11 runners after winning a bumper at the Punchestown Festival.
Eight go to post in the PP Control And Automation Veterans' Handicap Chase with the likes of Saint Are, Theatrical Star and Rocky Creek taking their chances.
Double Ross also lines up after struggling in some hot races following a fine fourth in last year's Paddy Power, but Nigel Twiston-Davies believes his charge is back on form now.
"He's been superb for us over the years and now he's got his bus pass, so he can go for the old age pensioners' race," said the trainer.
"They are great races. For horses that are at the top of the handicap, it's slightly easier for them.
"He looks absolutely great – I don't think we've had him in better form."