It was with huge sadness that hopes of an early season showdown between Douvan and Un De Sceaux in Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown have been thwarted.
Trainer Willie Mullins and his connections have decided that, with some pretty lairy weather forecast, this would not be the best time to dust off two of the most outstanding horses in his yard.
It’s a shame given that this is a typically glorious Group 1 affair boosted by an elite field, but with strong winds, heavy rain and frosts forecast in the wake of Storm Caroline you an hardly fault all concerned for protecting their ‘investments’ until another day.
But punters shouldn’t be too disheartened. The field still contains some high quality fancies, with Fox Norton – a multiple Group 1 winner – now assuming odds-on favouritism at around the 8/13 mark.
And with Politologue, Ar Mad and Charbel following closely behind, the 2017 edition of this fine race could still prove to be as eye-catching as ever even without the big two.
Here’s a summary of the pick of the entrants:
Fox Norton (8/13)
The Colin Tizzard steed is a worthy favourite in the absence of Douvan and Un De Sceaux. Indeed, since joining the Tizzard yard he hasn’t finished outside the top two in any race, with six wins and a pair of runners-up places to outstanding campaigners in Altior and Special Tiara.
The seven-year-old won on his seasonal return at Cheltenham in the Shloer Chase – some eight lengths clear of Special Tiara, by the way – and don’t forget it was as recently as April that he took down Un De Sceaux in the BoyleSports Champion Chase at Punchestown.
He’s won well on soft ground, hard ground and everything in between, and you won’t find as rock solid a favourite as this anywhere else this weekend. It will take freakish weather conditions for him not to contend at Sandown.
This smooth traveller has emerged as the most likely contender to Fox Norton on the back of a decent win in the Haldon Gold Cup. It was a dominant display and notable given that Ar Mad, in the field here, was pulled up having been left well off the pace.
Politologue has yet to make the step up to Group 1 company, but this could well be the season that the six-year-old takes his career to the next level – victory here would certainly be a handy start.
A faller in April and well beaten in fourth in the JLT Melling Chase at Cheltenham in March, we have to ask just how steep has his progression been these past few months? To beat Fox Norton on Saturday, it will have to have been meteoric.
There is very little in Charbel’s most recent formline to get excited about, and indeed one win in seven starts tells its own story.
Perhaps the interest from the market comes from a decent showing in the Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown in 2016, but there has been little in the way of progression since.
Charbel actually led the Champion Chase with two to jump at Cheltenham back in March, but Altior always looked likely to reel him and besides which the six-year-old fell anyway. He’s no match for Fox Norton on any given day.
Ar Mad (20/1)
This French fancy is a genuinely talented sort and won that Henry VIII renewal a couple of years ago.
But lengthy periods of inactivity since – just three runs since the start of 2016 – do little to whet the appetite of punters.
The seven-year-old was pulled up in the Haldon Gold Cup back in November, and in truth it would be an extraordinary shock if he were to take the tape in first on Saturday despite obvious Sandown links.
San Benedeto (20/1)
Here’s an intriguing sort from Paul Nicholls who could gatecrash the places.
He’s already ran three times this season, has San Benedeto, and the pick of those was undoubtedly his second in the Haldon Gold Cup where he was just two lengths shy of Politologue.
The six-year-old also claimed the honours in the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April; besting Charbel by the best part of 14 lengths and well in touch with Politologue when he fell two from home.
If you weren’t to have a wager on Fox Norton, an each way flutter on San Benedeto would be our next best.