The John Smith’s Mumm Melling Chase brings together an awesome leading cast with the headline act undoubtedly Sprinter Sacre. Unbeaten in eight dazzling chase starts, the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner destroyed a Cheltenham field lacking in depth last month to confirm his undoubted billing as top dog of the chasing ranks. At long odds on, National Hunt racing’s highest rated chaser will be expected by many to repeat the hammering of those that dare to face him.
But while Cheltenham represented a romp in the Cotswold sun, the presence today of FLEMENSTAR (Aintree, 3.05) and Cue Card ensure Sprinter Sacre must see off highly credible challengers to retain his unbeaten record over the larger obstacles. The duo represent a powerful pair of foes in their own right, especially as this afternoon’s two-and-a-half mile feature poses a step into the unknown for Nicky Henderson’s pacy seven-year-old.
Of course, he could easily take the step up in distance in his stride like he does most examinations, but with Flemenstar and Cue Card both sure to be aggressively ridden, any stamina concerns will surely be answered once and for all should the red-hot favourite oblige. It is also worth remembering that his previous attempt at this trip when racing over hurdles ended in failure at Ascot.
Cue Card answered a number of his critics, me included, with a powerful performance in the Ryanair Chase where he left yesterday’s Betfred Bowl hero First Lieutenant nine lengths in his wake.
His record over fences in single figure field at trips short of three miles reads 11221212111 and his last two defeats came at the hands of Bobs Worth by a short head and Sprinter Sacre by seven lengths in last year’s Arkle. Today’s extra four furlongs may enable him to close the gap, while Irish racing’s great flagship Flemenstar will definitely relish the opportunity to attack Aintree’s Mildmay fences and if he can find an early rhythm he has a chance of bullying Sprinter Sacre from his comfort zone.
In contrast to the Cheltenham Festival where we witnessed a procession, we should marvel in a race today.
On to lesser matters and MY SON MAX (Wolverhampton, 7.30) and MIZYEN (Wolverhampton, 8.30) can give punters still standing a run for their money under the floodlights. The first-named heads the weights in the 5f dash and is here on a recovery mission after a failed gamble two weeks ago. Sent to the front after travelling like a dream, he was mugged close home but is rated to fare better tonight with Robert Tart claiming a useful 5lb. Not many have turned up for the classified stakes but in what could be a tactical affair, Mizyen is the clear pick for me. Beaten at short odds last time, he was unluckily hampered but showed a decent turn of foot to nearly rescue matters.
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