Sceaux far, so good
Un De Sceaux attempts to live up to his billing as the most exciting novice chaser around when he lines up for the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
The seven-year-old will ensure there is no hiding places as he loves to bowl along in front and run his rivals into the ground.
He overcame a blip when he came down on his fencing debut, when well clear at Thurles in November, to win in good style at Fairyhouse the following month.
Un De Sceaux then took the Grade One Irish equivalent of the Arkle at Leopardstown on his only subsequent start in impressive fashion by 15 lengths from Clarcam.
His trainer Willie Mullins is already seeing him as a future Queen Mother Champion Chase contender.
"He's the type of chaser you love to train - the really fast two-miler that will maybe make into a champion chaser some day," said the County Carlow handler.
"Horses that just come down and take a fence, whatever way they meet it, are exciting to watch. His style of racing makes the whole thing very heart-stopping, but that's the way it is and that's what we have.
"He's an extraordinarily short price, but the punters and the bookmakers have all decided if he stands up he wins. I'm happy to go along with that!
"He learnt his trade jumping in France and we think that's a great base for chasers. He's not mistake-prone. He normally meets his fences right and jumps them right, but I do know that he's able to put in a short one as well.
"That will stand him in good stead around Cheltenham."
His main market rival is Vibrato Valtat, who has done nothing but improve all season and has won his last three races in tremendous style.
"He is obviously progressive and his rating of 162 is extremely high for a novice - at this stage of his career he is rated higher than Azertyuiop," said the Ditcheat handler.
"He was struggling with his breathing last year, which was why he was finishing tamely. This year he has turned that around.
"He needed his first run and hasn't looked back since. He's dead straightforward now and you can ride him anyway you like.
"Un De Sceaux has looked awesome when he gets round, but he has fallen once and he might find the Arkle different to the small fields he's been running in. If he gets in a rhythm he'll be very hard to beat. "
Josses Hill is highly rated by connections but has yet to really deliver on the track over fences, despite being successful at Doncaster and finishing second in good races at Ascot and Kempton.
"He's a brilliant jumper and has got great scope. He's just got to put it all together," said trainer Nicky Henderson.
"If he had won by a neck at Kempton and not been beaten, people would have said it would have been OK.
"The jumping will test Un Des Sceaux, as well. It promises to be a fascinating race."
Three Kingdoms has won three of his four starts over fences, with his only defeat coming at the hands of Vibrato Valtat at Kempton over Christmas.
"Although he's been winning on heavy ground, everybody who has ridden him has said he wants better ground," said trainer John Ferguson.
"I'm not saying for one second he'll be good enough to win, but I think he'll give a good account and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's battling up the hill.
"When he was beaten at Kempton he jumped well but when he won at Doncaster he didn't jump well as he'd lost his confidence schooling at home.
"Since then we've schooled him intensively and I feel his jumping will be a lot slicker."
God's Own was only third in that Kempton race, but his trainer Tom George believes the better ground will help the seven-year-old return to the form he showed earlier in the season when he won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.
"He had a quiet patch in the middle of the winter struggling on the soft ground," said the Slad trainer.
"His work has been very impressive recently and I couldn't be happier with him. He's really come alive in the last couple of weeks.
"The ground is very important to him. It wasn't that we weren't happy with him in the winter, but you can see a big change in him now. He's very sharp."
The Gordon Elliott-trained Clarcam will renew rivalry with Un De Sceaux despite also being declared for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday as a precaution.
"Clarcam has been left in the Champion Chase in case he falls at the first in the Arkle. It's just a precaution," said Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for owners, Gigginstown House Stud.
"Un De Sceaux looks to be a monster, but there's no point giving him a freebie.
"On the book we can't beat Un De Sceaux, but we certainly have to have a go."