Dodging Bullets to nip in under the radar should Sprinter Sacre falter
It’s no surprise that all the talk regarding this race has been about Sprinter Sacre, with the intrigue coming from a continued “will-he-won’t-he” debate as the former Champion Chaser makes his long-awaited return after a heart scare saw him miss most of last season.
Nicky Henderson walked the track at Ascot on Thursday before expressing himself satisfied that the going wasn’t too testing for his stable star, although the threat of further rain at the weekend may yet see an about-turn.
If he does line up, he’s sure to be a warm favourite, and the vibes from his yard have been notably upbeat in recent weeks, something which couldn’t have been said last winter, when he was the subject of negative reports long before he was pulled up at Kempton in December.
It’s never easy for great horses to return from lengthy spells on the sidelines, as we saw last term with Big Buck’s, who lost his air of invincibility on the back of a minor tendon injury, and was subsequently retired.
Those who long to see great champions in action will hope that the fire in Sprinter Sacre’s belly won’t have been doused by his extended period of inactivity, but that competitive edge, more that fitness itself, can be the biggest casualty of extended rest in top-class racehorses.
In short, “The Black Aeroplane” may have his engine in working order, but that doesn’t mean that the fuel tank’s full.
A 2012/13 vintage Sprinter Sacre would be long odds on for a race of this nature, but with well-being and fitness doubts hard to shake off, he’s likely to start bigger than even money, and while that may be too tempting to resist for some, it remains a risky bet based on what we know of the last twelve months.
Under normal circumstances, Dodging Bullets wouldn’t be fit to tie the metaphorical shoelaces of his main rival, but with testing ground no concern, the Paul Nicholls-trained 7-y-o looks the one punters will turn to, and he looks the most solid bet on balance.
It was hardly the strongest Tingle Creek he won last time, but it was certainly competitive, and he holds Somersby on that form, albeit narrowly.
Never one to carry his form through a full season, Dodging Bullets has disappointed in the spring for the last couple of years, and it makes sense to consider this as his primary aim for the season. Not one we’d be rushing to back when he next appears, I’d nonetheless be happy to entrust him with my cash given the conditions he faces here.
Somersby was second to Dodging Bullets at Sandown, and that effort proved he still has what it takes to mix it at the top level. He’s run well more often than not at this venue, winning this race in 2012, and arguably unlucky not to beat the mighty Master Minded the previous year.
The downsides with him are twofold – he’s not won the races which his talent demands he should, and he’s creeping towards veteran status, when his off days are likely to outnumber those when he gives his running.
A faller here last year when quietly fancied, he owes his supporters something in terms of payback, and the feeling is that he’ll come up short, if not by too much.
Twinlight represents the mercurial Mullins/Walsh combination, but is another with two ways of running, as he showed when winning at Leopardstown three weeks ago, having flopped badly in the Hilly Way at Cork. His Leopardstown win has been franked, with Hilly Way runner-up Mallowney bolting up last weekend having been well beaten at Leopardstown.
Twinlight jumped well on the whole when winning last time, but is prone to the occasional blunder, and was let down by his jumping on his sole previous start in the UK at Kempton. He’s a player if avoiding mistakes, and there is a real possibility that Ruby Walsh may be able to get a soft lead on him, so he can’t be dismissed lightly.
It’s much harder to make a case for Grey Gold, and the fact that Richard Lee’s 10-y-o was well beaten in a C&D handicap last time seems to illustrate the size of the task he faces against Sprinter Sacre and co.
He’s useful in the right grade, and does handle conditions, so it’s not impossible that he could inherit third place if others blunder, but victory can’t be realistically entertained.
Should he somehow manage to prevail, it will be a popular success, with Lee hinting strongly that he’s ready to hand the reins of his operation to daughter Kerry in the near future.
The BetBright Verdict
Selection: Dodging Bullets @ 27/10
Danger: Twinlight @ 59/10
The race goes off at 3pm at ascot on Saturday, January 17th.