Trainer Gary Moore has been left with no alternative but to aim Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham after the chestnut raised his standard yet again in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot yesterday.
Whether or not he is merely the two-mile king in absentia, with Sprinter Sacre still recovering after his episode in their short-lived meeting at Kempton over Christmas, is set be determined in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on March 12.
Sire De Grugy, the 5-4 favourite, managed a reasonable impression of Sprinter Sacre in collecting his second Grade One of the season, with jockey Jamie Moore, the trainer's son, admitting "he was having a laugh at them" approaching the final two fences as he sauntered past Hidden Cyclone (4-1) and 11 lengths into the distance. Kauto Stone (16-1) finished third, a further 15 lengths back.
Aside from his potent cruising speed, what was most impressive about Sire De Grugy this time was his jumping over some tricky fences in deep ground. Those factors proved too great for market rival Somersby, who unseated Dominic Elsworth early in the final circuit to end hopes of an emotional victory for his connections.
Trainer Moore has said in the past Cheltenham is not an ideal track for Sire De Grugy and alternative events in France could be considered. However, he said after the victory: "He's got to go for it. I think he's an improving horse and I have nearly two months to freshen him up.
"I'll give him a nice break for a couple of weeks then we'll bring him back purposely for the Champion Chase. He deserves to be in it."
The jockey was asked if Sire De Grugy was the best he had ridden. Moore said: "I rode Well Chief, he was very, very good. Sire De Grugy does look like him, as a chestnut with a big white face. I'm not sure he's as good as Well Chief yet but he's getting there. Today he felt as good as he has ever felt. Some of the jumps he put in were spectacular."
Hidden Cyclone's trainer Shark Hanlon said: "I think he was beaten by a very good horse. He'll be better going the other way and will more than likely go for the Queen Mother."
The rest of the day belonged to Noel Fehily, who achieved a lucrative 272-1 treble, starting with Highland Retreat (5-1) in the Grade Two OLBG.com Mares' Hurdle. Harry Fry's seven-year-old was stepping up from a Kempton Listed race and rebuffed challenges from Mickie and Carole's Spirit.
Fry's partner and assistant, Ciara O'Connor, said: "She won a point-to-point and will go chasing next season. I'd say Cheltenham would be unlikely as she needs soft ground. She's also due a break, so this may have been her Gold Cup."
Fehily joined forces with Paul Nicholls for both of his other wins. He helped Irish Saint (6-1) carry out an 11-length demolition job in the Keltbray Holloway's Hurdle and was also on board when Bury Parade (11-2), a quirky but capable jumper in a first-time hood, led home Grandioso in a Ditcheat one-two for the Sodexo Handicap Chase.