Champion Chase the target for Sprinter Sacre despite loss to Dodging Bullets at Ascot

Barry Geraghty riding Sprinter Sacre celebrate after winning the 2012 Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown. Pic: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images. (Courtesy of Great British Racing.

Barry Geraghty riding Sprinter Sacre celebrate after winning the 2012 Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown. Pic: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images. (Courtesy of Great British Racing).

By Simon Jackson.

Dodging Bullets had too many guns for Sprinter Sacre who was forced to settle for second place on his return to racing in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

The victory was Dodging Bullet’s second Grade 1 victory in as many starts after his win in the 888Sport Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December.

The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding raced close to the pace for Noel Fehily before taking it up two fences from home to finish three lengths ahead of Sprinter Sacre, who has been off the track since suffering heart problems when pulled up at Kempton 13 months ago.

Sprinter Sacre was later found to have experienced a small bleed from the nose before returning to trainer Nicky Henderson’s Lambourn yard. Henderson has since given an upbeat report on the nine-year-old who continues to head the betting for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase which he won in 2013.

“Most importantly he’s fine this morning. He’s been out and looked very perky,” Henderson said to At The Races on Sunday. “He was great, he trotted up, was very bouncy and full of it. I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed himself.

“He’s sound and his legs are good. He ate up and did all the right things. No damage done which is always a relief.

“It was great to see him out and everyone was pleased with what he did.

“We’d have preferred it [the bleeding from the nose] not to have happened,” Henderson continued. “There was a show of blood in his nostrils when he was being routine tested and we scoped him after that.

“We don’t want to see it. It’s not ideal, but didn’t seem to be too dramatic. It was probably acceptable.

“There was no mucus, which was important. I think we can accept that. It didn’t affect him or his performance.

“Newbury [where he schooled last month] was a huge step forward and yesterday was another one.

Sprinter Sacre is now best-priced at 3-1, but as short as 7-4 to regain the Champion Chase crown that he won so impressively in 2013. Last year’s winner, Sire De Grugy, is 4-1, ahead of Dodging Bullets (5-1) and Henderson has revealed that a racecourse gallop for his top-rated chaser is a possibility ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.

“I wouldn’t rule it [public gallop] out, but I wouldn’t rule it in at the moment,” Henderson said.

“What we are definitely going to do is have a quiet week to 10 days and then we will start the build-up. That is why the timing of yesterday was perfect for us.

“He just got tired yesterday and we feel that’s perfectly acceptable, going that gallop in that ground in his first race really since Punchestown the year before last.

“I think it’s realistic for him to regain his crown at Cheltenham.”

Read ‘Horse Talk with Simon Jackson’ at London24 for the latest horse racing news.

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