Harry Allwood looks ahead to the Grade One bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown on Saturday and provides his verdict on each contender.
Nicky Henderson’s star chaser will be bidding for his fourth consecutive victory in the Grade One contest, live on Racing TV at 3.05pm, and will face last month’s Champion Chase hero who is one of two runners for the all-conquering Henry de Bromhead.
Rachael Blackmore will also be in action on these shores for the first time since Aintree, and the Grand National-winning rider is on board 40-1 chance Ornua.
Below is a guide to all the contenders plus a big-race verdict.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson. Sandown record: 11111. Best odds: 3-1.
Positives: Nine-time Grade One winner who is unbeaten in five starts over course and distance, and has won the past three renewals of this race. Will arrive here a fresh horse, which can’t be said for the majority of his rivals and is the one to beat on ratings.
Negatives: Was no match for Nube Negra on his return to action in December, and was off the bridle a long way from home on that occasion. He’s now an 11-year-old, and he hasn’t looked his brilliant best for the past couple of seasons. It is also a concern we have only seen Nicky Henderson’s star chaser run three times in the past two years.
Verdict: Wears cheekpieces for the first time which will hopefully help his cause, but there’s a suspicion he may not be as good as he once was.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Sandown record: 221712. Best odds: 33-1.
Positives: Has produced some of his career-best efforts at this track, and his defeat of First Flow, when conceding 22lb to the Clarence House Chase winner, over course and distance in 2020 looks strong form now. The eight-year-old also has a good record fresh, so the 62-day absence is not a concern.
Negatives: Has failed to land a blow a couple of times at Graded level this season, and needs to put a disappointing effort behind Sceau Royal last time out behind him. His form also suggests he will come up short at Grade One level, like he did in the 2019 Tingle Creek.
Verdict: Has a bit to find on the ratings and will surely need a few to underperform to be competitive.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Sandown record: 2. Best odds: 6-1.
Greaneteen finished second in the Tingle Creek earlier this season
Positives: Improving chaser who has proved he is capable of being competitive at Grade One level this season and was only beaten two lengths in the Champion Chase last time out. Finished a creditable second behind Politologue in the Tingle Creek over course and distance last year and is the second-highest rated contender in the field.
Negatives: Was no match for Sceau Royal at Newbury in February where he pulled hard, and again raced exuberantly in the Champion Chase where he would have probably finished behind that rival again had Alan King’s charge not met traffic problems.
Verdict: Likely to have more to offer and can’t easily be discounted, with the likelihood of a strong pace certain to suit.
4. NUTS WELL
Trainer: Ann Hamilton. Sandown record: -- Best odds: 14-1.
Positives: Old Roan Chase winner who has taken his form to another level this season. Entitled to come on for the run following his second to Fakir D’oudairies at Aintree after a 166-day break, and that was also his first start at Grade One level.
Negatives: It’s arguable his best performances over fences have come over 2m4f, and he may lack the pace on this ground over two miles. He may also be a shade flattered by his effort in the Marsh Chase, as most of his rivals in behind had excuses.
Verdict: Consistent performer but he’s likely to find one or two too good, and is not certain to be suited by the conditions.
Trainer: Henry de Bromhead. Sandown record: 2. Best odds: 40-1.
Positives: Grade One winner who bounced back to form with a gutsy effort last time out, and finished second in the 2018 Henry VIII Novices' Chase over course and distance. Represents powerful connections, and Grand National-winning rider Rachael Blackmore is on board.
Negatives: Ornua’s best efforts in Grade One company came in novice events, and he failed to sparkle on his two starts at this level in open company. His form over the past couple of years also falls short of his rivals here.
Verdict: Interesting to see connections send him over for a tilt at a Grade One, but this is surely a difficult ask.
6. SCEAU ROYAL
Trainer: Alan King. Sandown record: 1426. Best odds: 9-2.
Sceau Royal was unlucky not to finish closer in the Champion Chase last time out
Positives: High-class hurdler and chaser who looked as good as ever at Newbury in February. Did well to finish as close as he did in the Champion Chase last time out having met traffic problems and gave Altior a scare when second in this race in 2019. Ground conditions should be perfect for him, and a strong pace over two miles will also be ideal.
Negatives: Has failed to lower Altior’s colours on a number of occasions, and will need everything to fall right for him to score. He has also been on the go since October, and this will be his eighth run of the season following a hard race at Cheltenham.
Verdict: Has everything in his favour and it will be disappointing if he’s not capable of being involved in the finish.
7. PUT THE KETTLE ON
Trainer: Henry de Bromhead. Sandown record: -- Best odds: 2-1.
Positives: 2020 Arkle winner who showed again how tough she is when landing the Champion Chase last month, her seventh victory from nine starts over the larger obstacles. Has the best form next to her name this season and, being only seven, there’s a chance she could have even more to offer.
Negatives: Her three career-best efforts have been at Cheltenham, and she appears to show her best form at that track with her past four victories over fences being at Prestbury Park. She also failed to show her best away from Cheltenham when third at Leopardstown prior to her Champion Chase victory. This trip on this ground is also a slight concern.
Verdict: Has the best form next to her name this season and is the one to beat if able to show her best at Sandown.
HARRY’S BIG-RACE VERDICT:
Altior made all to win this race in 2019, and I expect he will race up with the pace again here to make it a proper test. Ornua likes to lead and Put The Kettle On is another who likes to get on with things.
With this in mind, the race is likely to suit Sceau Royal and Greaneteen, who both tend to race keenly and a decent pace on this ground should help them settle.
Sceau Royal would have undoubtedly finished closer in the Champion Chase had he got a clear run, and I think he is worth chancing to reverse form with Put The Kettle On who needs to prove she is not just a Cheltenham specialist.
The selection will have everything in his favour on Saturday and although he is yet to beat Altior, Nicky Henderson’s 11-year-old has questions to answer plus may not be as good as he once was.
It is also worth noting that when Altior beat Sceau Royal at Newbury in February 2020, Sceau Royal disappointed that season and his breathing may have been an issue as he had a wind op prior to this season, which looks to have helped him.We've teamed up with the Flat experts at Timeform to bring you a FREE copy of their latest book - 50 Flat Horses to Follow throughout the 2021 season. Click here to claim yours for FREE!
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