Sire De Grugy heads to Ascot in top form as Gary Moore's stable star bids to add the Sodexo Clarence House Chase to his impressive list of victories this season.
The eight-year-old gave Moore a first Grade One triumph in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December and then took full advantage of Sprinter Sacre being pulled up to capture the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.
The West Sussex trainer said: "It's been so far, so good with him. He had a few easy days after Kempton then we just stepped him up again. He's came out of it very well. I couldn't be more pleased with him. I've said that he wants soft ground so I can't use that as an excuse. He won the Dovecote over hurdles in heavy and it was pretty soft at Chepstow earlier this season. There are one or two in there, Somersby always runs his best races there and ran Master Minded to a short head. I think we should probably worry about the [fences] in his way more, though. It's a track he's never been to before, but I don't think it should worry him."
Oiseau De Nuit stuck on well to claim second place behind Sire De Grugy at Kempton and Colin Tizzard feels his veteran will be close again.
"We were only four lengths behind Sire De Grugy last time and I don't see any reason why the distance should be much different either way. Looking at it like that we've got a chance," said Tizzard. "He's a 12-year-old and is in the form of his life so he deserves to run in these types of races."
In the other big race of the day the StanJames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, Ptit Zig has another chance to demonstrate whether decent form displayed as a juvenile last season amounts to something greater. Certainly the manner of a win in France in a Grade One in June before returning to win at the highest level in November has thrilled connections.
He showed he was still on an upward curve, though, when second in the Ladbroke off top weight but Daryl Jacob, his jockey, feels he has plenty going for him today.
"He absolutely loves soft ground, he showed that when winning a nice race in France," said Jacob. "He was giving a heck of a lot of weight away to the winner in the Ladbroke, but the way he travelled that day just showed how much class he has. I thought that was a great run for such a young horse with that weight. The fact the ground is in his favour and we're going back left-handed will hopefully make him hard to beat."
His main opposition comes from Melodic Rendezvous, who started the season in fantastic fashion, winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. He was well fancied for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle against My Tent Or Yours but ran a lifeless race after picking up an injury.
Meanwhile, David Pipe's Gevrey Chambertin will miss his intended chasing debut in Haydock's Racing Post Celebrates 200,000 Social Followers Novices' Chase.