Grands Crus faces Cheltenham test of Gold Cup credentials
Betfair Denman Chase (1435 GMT); Novices Chase (1620 GMT)
- Saturday, 11 February
- Coverage on Radio 5 live; report on BBC Sport website; live on Channel Four TV
For 20 years, jump racing has yearned for a grey-coloured replacement for Desert Orchid in the public's affections and, in Grands Crus, that horse may finally have been discovered.
The seven-year-old, trained by David Pipe for owners Roger Stanley and Yvonne Reynolds, was born on April Fool's Day, but has been looking like the real thing ever since.
Unlucky to have been up against the long-unbeaten Big Buck's in top long-distance hurdle races, Grands Crus has now escaped his old foe with a new career over steeplechase fences.
After three wins from just three starts over bigger obstacles, the horse is already rated a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner-in-waiting.
And, on the same card as last year's Gold Cup winner Long Run (Betfair Denman Chase, 1435 GMT), he will seek to advertise that billing at Newbury in Saturday's Novices Chase (1620 GMT).
Success there could see him taking on Kauto Star and co in this season's Gold Cup in March, although the RSA Chase (at the same Cheltenham Festival fixture, but against fellow "novices") is a possible alternative.
"With a horse like him, it's hard not to get carried away," says Tom Scudamore, regular rider of Grands Crus, before adding diplomatically: "But each race is his next target."
That said, Scudamore, Pipe's number one jockey, admits: "Every step he's has taken this season has been another step up the ladder."
The sequence began with smooth successes at Cheltenham and Newbury, but reached an impressive mid-season climax in the prestigious Feltham Novices' Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
That day, top-notch opponents were swept aside in a time nearly three seconds faster than Kauto Star managed in winning a fifth King George VI Chase over the identical course on the same afternoon.
Although impressed by the time, 29-year-old Scudamore prefers to concentrate on the style in which the grey "left the others for dust".
Not so long ago, Grands Crus' exuberance gave cause for concern, but it has been striking how much more mature he has seemed since graduating to fences.
"He's grown up in his attitude," reckons Scudamore. "He's a lot more settled, instead of burning all that energy by trying to fight me - and that's made him a better racehorse.
"Maybe the bigger obstacles have calmed him down a bit. It's a boring answer, but he just makes my life so straightforward."
Grands Crus, who missed a race at Cheltenham in January because Pipe feared he might have too hard a time too close to the Festival, has some potentially useful opponents at Newbury.
That said, none of them are yet being mentioned in the same breath as the Gold Cup. The result ought to be just Grand(s).