Nicky Henderson may be without superstar two-miler Sprinter Sacre but Captain Conan can prove an able deputy in the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase on day two of the Cheltenham Festival tomorrow.
Undoubtedly the absence of the defending champion takes a bit of the shine off the race, but it is still a fair field and Sire De Grugy is justifiably favourite.
Captain Conan finished behind that runner on his only outing this term, when third in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown back in December.
He was beaten just over seven lengths that day but the distance does not do him justice as he was in the lead on the run to the last before a lack of match practice just caught up with him and he lost second on the line.
Captain Conan reportedly had low potassium levels following that run and also returned an unsatisfactory scope, two issues which have kept him on the sidelines since and is hardly an ideal preparation.
However, if you judge him on the best of his form from last year, when he did, in fact, beat Sire De Grugy over this course and distance and claimed three Grade Ones, Captain Conan would have to be right in the mix.
Red Sherlock puts his unbeaten record on the line as he tackles the opening Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
David Pipe has always thought plenty of the five-year-old and after a Listed bumper winner at this track back in November, the trainer gave Red Sherlock a couple of nice experiences over hurdles before stepping him up in class for a Grade Two assignment at Prestbury Park in January.
Red Sherlock kept on all the way up the hill that day to comfortably account for Rathvinden, and given he has a Flat sire in Shirocco, he clearly has plenty of gears and has shown he can operate on quicker ground, too.
A son of the outstanding mare Lady Cricket, Red Sherlock can achieve something his mother did not by notching a Festival success.
Ballycasey is a hot favourite for the RSA Chase and it will be a surprise if he is turned over after posting such an impressive performance in the Moriarty last time out.
The seven-year-old made his chase debut when notching an eight-length success at Navan in November and, despite a lay-off, he turned in an excellent effort to see off Don Cossack in a trappy renewal of the Leopardstown Grade One.
He jumps and stays and with some improvement surely still to come, he will be a worthy market leader for Willie Mullins.
Clerk’s Choice can make a victorious return to obstacles with victory in the Coral Cup at likely generous odds.
The eight-year-old was thought good enough to tackle the Champion Hurdle a few years ago but he has fallen down the order a bit in recent time, mixing jumping with runs on the level.
He was hardly disgraced when eighth in the County at the meeting last year before subsequently getting to within a length and a half of Listed glory at Aintree, so he clearly still has the ability for the big days.
Clerk’s Choice has been kept busy on the all-weather throughout the winter, most recently finishing second to Rutherglen at Kempton last month, and should be worth at least an each-way interest in this competitive heat, with better ground very much in his favour.
Orgilgo Bay was found wanting in Grade One company last time but is an interesting contender in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Group Two-placed on the Flat, he made a good start when winning on his jumping bow back in August but has lost his way in a couple of starts since.
He tried to make all in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle last month and was unsurprisingly well beaten, but this could be more his level.
Silver Concorde can succeed where Rite Of Passage failed and present Dermot Weld with victory in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
The subsequent Ascot Gold Cup winner fell short back in 2009 but Silver Concorde has strong claims after having impressed in winning at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He also finished close up behind Jezki in bumper company in 2012 - form which obviously bears close scrutiny given that one has since gone on to Grade One glory.
Enda Bolger has been out of luck the past couple of years, having previously farmed the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase, but Quiscover Fontaine is taken to return him to the top of the cross-country chase tree.
CHELTENHAM: 1.30 Red Sherlock, 2.05 Ballycasey, 2.40 Clerk’s Choice, 3.20 CAPTAIN CONAN (NAP), 4.00 Quiscover Fontaine, 4.40 Orgilgo Bay, 5.15 Silver Concorde.