There are concerns about the well-being of the last two winners of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy, in what has become an increasingly open division.
That uncertainty may well have played a part in a modern day record of 33 entries being received for the £350,000 Grade One contest, the highlight of Ladies Day at The Festival, Wednesday, March 11.
The previous highest number of entries was 32 in 2002.
The latest four winners of the two-mile chasing championship are entered with Finian’s Rainbow and popular veteran Sizing Europe joining the aforementioned pair.
The latter is one of three entries for Irish handler Henry de Bromhead and could make his seventh appearance at The Festival.
Sizing Europe turned in a rare lacklustre performance on his latest start in November when sixth to fellow entry Champagne Fever in the Grade Two Clonmel Oil Chase.
De Bromhead said: “Sizing Europe is well and in good form. We are just taking it one race at a time with him at the moment, but it is better to be entered at Cheltenham rather than not. That was our thinking anyway.
“He is in the Clarence House at Ascot next weekend but I’m not sure if he will travel over. It will all depend on the ground.”
De Bromhead has also entered Special Tiara, who regained the winning thread with a spectacular jumping performance in the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas and was sixth in this race last year, and Grade One runner-up Moscow Mannon.
The trainer added: “The Champion Chase is the aim for Special Tiara. He has come out of Kempton very well and is in great form.
“We delighted with him there – it was a brilliant performance – and it was great to get him back on the winning trail again.
“We still need to think about whether or not he will run again as I haven’t given it a lot of thought yet. We were happy with Moscow Mannon in Leopardstown and he seems to be in good form after the race.
“He will probably go for the Champion Chase as well and I would be hopeful of a good performance.”
Sprinter Sacre has been off the track since pulling-up in the 2013 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park but is set to return in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase on January 17. There is no entry for Simonsig, however, with the grey set to miss Cheltenham and possibly the season as well.
Sire De Grugy is due to make his comeback in the Betfair Price Rush Chase (registered as the Game Spirit Chase) at Newbury on February 7.
Sire De Grugy’s trainer, Gary Moore, told his exclusive blog for sponsors betway that he feared the worst when his stable star was injured earlier in the season.
“In all the years I’ve been training (and that’s been a hell of a long time), I can never remember another horse injuring his hip before,” he wrote.
“It was such a strange injury as he just did it rolling. He got to his feet but was in a desperate way and couldn’t weight bear. I cannot tell you how desperate it looked at the time as he just stood there and I was convinced it was a tibial stress fracture or he’d done his pelvis.
“Most horses don’t have great pain thresholds, but he isn’t like most horses. He is very tough. In fact, he’s as hard as nails. He is like Rocky Marciano and certainly wouldn’t make a fuss or fake an injury like a professional footballer! That’s what really scared me as I know he brushes most things off.
“Funnily enough, even though we had to tread carefully, if I’d known the injury wasn’t as serious as first feared, we might have got him ready for the Clarence House or even the Tingle Creek. Well, he’s really beginning to flourish at home as he just loves exercise and life.”
“So, we took it real steady and at first he had a month’s box rest. Funnily enough, even though we had to tread carefully, if I’d known the injury wasn’t as serious as first feared, we might have got him ready for the Clarence House or even the Tingle Creek.
“Anyway, after a month in his box, we moved him onto the walker and from there into light canters. Well, he’s really beginning to flourish at home as he just loves exercise and life.
“I’m thrilled to report that he cantered upside his work companion Knight Of Pleasure for the first time yesterday morning (Wednesday). He’ll canter again today (Thursday) and then three more times on Friday. We’ll see how he gets on with that and we’ll be stepping his workload up gradually each day from now.
“I’ve been asked how hard we are currently working him and I’d say he’d currently be doing a swinging canter up to half speed. We’ve got until February 7 to get him ready for the Game Spirit and he’ll go there unless the ground is firm and we all know there’s no chance of that.
“If disaster struck and the weather did claim Newbury’s meeting, we’d have to do something with him because there is no chance we could go straight to the Betway Champion Chase without a prep run. I could even look to run him in a hurdle race if necessary, but fingers crossed we don’t have to go down that route.”
There are 14 Irish-trained entries, another modern record (previous highest 12 in 2007), with four of these hailing from the stable of the country’s champion trainer Willie Mullins.
Champagne Fever, already a dual winner at The Festival, could drop back in trip after contesting the King George with other possibles Ballycasey, Turban and Twinlight.
British champion trainer Paul Nicholls is the most successful current handler in the Betway Champion Chase with four successes. He has four entries for 2015, headed by Al Ferof.
Nicholls could also be represented by Tingle Creek winner Dodging Bullets, Mr Mole and Hinterland.
Alan King, successful with Voy Por Ustedes in 2007, has two possibles in Uxizandre and Balder Succes while Cumbria-based Nicky Richards may run Eduard and Simply Ned.