TRAINER Kim Bailey is keen to see how Charlie Hall hero Harry Topper fares on a sounder surface when the surprise Wetherby winner lines up against just two opponents at Sandown today.
The six-year-old struck three times as a novice last season, and made a triumphant return in Wetherby’s feature event early last month which ignited dreams of a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup campaign.
The form of the Charlie Hall as a guide remains to be seen – 2011 Gold Cup winner Long Run is not the same force at present.
However, Harry Topper does still face the Paul Nicholls-trained Rolling Aces and Gary Moore’s Vino Griego in the Future Stars Chase in this intiguing contest over an extended three miles, and Bailey said: “He’s all ready to go and it will be an interesting race as it will be the fastest ground he’s run on.
“It will be an interesting tactical battle as well with only the three runners. Every race is a learning curve and this will be new ground, a new track and big fences for our horse, so we’ll see what happens.
“We’re taking it one race at a time. Let’s get Sandown out of the way before we look any further ahead.”
Rolling Aces is officially rated 3lb above Harry Topper, having raised his game when making a winning return to action in the Powers Irish Whiskey Chase at Down Royal early last month.
Nicholls said: “He won well at Down Royal and is stepping back up to three miles. I think the trip should be fine. He was second in the Racing Plus Chase last season.
“He goes there in good form, he goes well fresh and obviously with Harry Topper in there, it’s going to be an interesting race.”
Vino Griego has failed to complete the course on his last two starts at Cheltenham and Moore admits it will be a tough ask to beat his two rivals. He said: “If he can get round that would be a start. Anything other than that would be a bonus, I think.”
The small field for such an illustrious race is another blow to Sandown after Nicky Henderson withdrew Sprinter Sacre from tomorrow’s BetVictor Tingle Creek Chase at the track.
The star of the National Hunt scene returned a dirty tracheal wash earlier in the week and his results are still not 100 per cent.
With the champion trainer taking no chances with his horse of a lifetime, Sprinter Sacre is unlikely to reappear until the Clarence House Chase, formerly known as the Victor Chandler, at Ascot on January 18.
“We’ve taken the decision not to run. We’ve re-tested him and just got the results back,” said Henderson. “Having spoken to all the vets possible and his owner Caroline Mould, we’ve decided not to go.
“His figures have improved quite dramatically since Monday, but there was just one figure that was causing us concern.
“We can’t take any chances with him and having told everyone earlier in the week that he had a problem and if we ran him and, god forbid, something happened, then everyone would ask what we are doing running him.
“I suppose there’s the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas, but we’ll probably wait for the Victor Chandler Chase now.
“Now we can get him on some medication and it is the sort of thing that will clear up in no time, but obviously we couldn’t give him anything earlier in the week.
“Nico De Boinville rides him everyday and having ridden him (yesterday) he said he still looks and feels fantastic and that he was in tip-top form and that you could never tell externally that there was a little something a miss.
“However, sadly we’ll have to bypass the weekend. It’s marginal and we’d always wanted to start here, but we’ll have to make a new plan. Captain Conan will take his place and he’s a horse on the upgrade.”
Timmy Murphy has been suspended for nine days following his altercation with fellow jockey Dominic Elsworth at Newbury last week. Murphy left the track with a dislocated shoulder and it was later discovered he had been involved in a scuffle in the weighing room.
Stipendiary steward Paul Barton said: “Timmy Murphy has confirmed there were two incididents in the changing room, both of which were instigated by him.”
The Queen has been named Owner of the Year for 2013 by the Racehorse Owners’ Association in recognition of Estimate’s success in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and her unparalleled commitment and contribution to the sport of horse racing over more than 60 years.
The Special Achievement Award went to Brian Ellison-trained Top Notch Tonto who ran the race of his life to finish runner-up in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Qipco British Champions Day.