Brian Healy looks ahead to Saturday's Sandown highlight, the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase.
Saturday’s meeting at Sandown promises to be a cracking card with two Grade One contests scheduled among the fixture’s seven races.
The highlight though is the Tingle Creek Chase, a two-mile contest that can provide some serious clues to the big two two-mile races at the Cheltenham Festival, and some big names have won the Tingle Creek en-route to Festival success.
Last year, Sire De Grugy took the race in file style from Somersby and the win was the start of a five-race unbeaten run that included wins at Kempton, Ascot and Cheltenham where he was crowned Champion Chaser. He returned to Sandown in April to round off his season with another win in the Celebration Chase.
While we might not see a Champion Chase winner in this year’s renewal, and the defection of bot Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre removes a little of the race’s lustre, it still promises to be a fascinating affair with a likely field of ten runners competing for the Grade One prize.
Alan King’s BALDER SUCCESS
) is the early market leader, and looks to hold solid claims after an encouraging reappearance in the Haldon Gold Cup.
Although beaten into second behind Tom George’s God’s Own on that occasion, the Goldneyev gelding cane enjoy a 7lbs pull for the five lengths he was beaten, and with the benefit of that run now under his belt, he looks sure to mount a bold bid to reverse the form.
One of last season’s top novices, it is worth remembering that he ran a shocker on the corresponding card twelve months ago in the Henry VIII Chase, and while he left that run well behind next time at Warwick and again at Kempton after – beating God’s Own – it has to be a shade concerning how he’ll fare returning to this track.
Balder Success should be sharper for his run in the Haldon Gold Cup.
Last season’s runner-up, SOMERSBY
) returns for another crack at the race having finished down the field in the Haldon Gold Cup and them plugging on for second behind Al Ferof in the recent Amlin Chase.
A top-class performer in his younger days, Mick Channon’s charge is still capable on his best form but is finding winning hard to come by these days; he is often at his best when fresh, and it is perhaps concerning that this will be his third start in a month, while his jumping can sometimes leave a bit to be desired.
A strong case could be made for OSCAR WHISKY
) had this race been at Cheltenham, as it was in 2000 and 2010, and Nicky Henderson’s charge has an excellent record at Prestbury Park.
He has a win at this venue too when getting the better of Manyriverstocross in the Scilly Isles last term in heavy ground, making heavy weather of beating that rival and just one other before only getting as far as the first fence in the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival.
He shaped well under a big weight in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, finishing well up the hill to snatch fourth behind Caid Du Berlais; that race though was over 2m 4f, and the drop back to two miles isn’t likely to suit the Oscar gelding, and he may find things happening too quickly over this shorter trip.
Oscar Whisky may find this drop in trip too sharp for him.
Paul Nicholls loves winning this race and is doubly represented with both HINTERLAND
) and Dodging Bullets. Hinterland is a dual course-and-distance winner here, firstly when landing a beginners’ chase where he benefitted from the last-fence departure of Grandouet to come home five lengths clear of Turn Over Sivola.
He had made a Horlicks of the final fence himself though, and was lucky to stay on his feet; he beat that same rival next time in the Henry VIII Chase by a narrow margin, and he was still travelling ok when falling in the Champion Chase.
Having shaped as if amiss on his final run of the season at Aintree, he was disappointing in the Haldon Gold Cup and needs to bounce back from that dismal effort.
) was one of last season’s top two-mile novice chasers, having been a very smart hurdler, and he made a winning debut over the larger obstacles at Kempton when beating Turn Over Sivola, and then lowered the colours of a smart Alan King-trained horse in Raya Star at Cheltenham in a novices’ Grade Two.
Concerns over soft ground were dispelled when beating Grandouet easily in the Wayward Lad Chase at Kempton over the Christmas period, and he was just out-battled at Newbury in the Game Spirit behind Module.
As was the case in his hurdling days though, he seemed to go off the boil in the spring but still ran creditably behind Western Warhorse in the Arkle Chase when finishing fourth, but ran poorly next time at Aintree when stepped up in trip in the Manifesto behind Uxizandre.
He shaped much better on his seasonal reappearance when third behind the same horse in the Shloer Chase, and should build on that first run. It could be that this is the time of year when he is at his best, and he should be capable of mounting a bold bid.
Dodging Bullets (left) looks good value to give Paul Nicholls another success in the Tingle Creek.
Haldon Gold Cup winner GOD’S OWN
) comes in search of a hat-trick having won at the Punchestown Festival when beating Balder Success, and confirmed that form with Alan King’s charge in the Haldon Gold Cup.
Tom George’s charge had plenty of solid chase form prior to that Punchestown success, which was his first win over the larger obstacles. He has really got his jumping together after making numerous mistakes in his defeat behind Valdez at Doncaster last term, and perhaps is best fresh.
Although he perhaps won a shade cosily at Exeter in the Haldon Gold Cup, he faces a tougher ask against Balder Success now off level weights, which effectively gives Alan King’s charge a 7lbs pull, and the Oscar gelding will do well to confirm the form.
Haldon Gold Cup winner God's Own has more on his plate, taking on Balder Success off level weights.