Six have been declared for the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase (2.25pm) on Saturday, including the mighty Altior. Will one of his rivals be able to lower his colours? Harry Allwood provides his thoughts on each contender ahead of the Grade One contest.
The return of Altior! Nicky Henderson’s star chaser is the headline act in this year’s Tingle Creek, a race he won in 2018 when defeating Un De Sceaux.
The second-highest rated chaser in Britain will bid to become just the second contender aged ten – the other being Moscow Flyer in 2004 - to win the Grade One contest.
The ground is good to soft, good in places on the chase course at Sandown at the time of writing, but there is plenty of rain forecast between now and Saturday, so there is a possibility conditions could become testing.
Watch: Take a look back at some vintage renewals of the Tingle Creek between 1988-2009
Won by some superstars in the past, including Desert Orchid, Flagship Uberalles, Moscow Flyer, Kauto Star and Sprinter Sacre, who will add their name to the illustrious roll of honour on Saturday?
Below is a verdict on each contender plus a number of form clues. Don't forget to watch the race live on Racing TV 2.25pm!
Trainer: Nicky Henderson. Rating: 172. Sponsors odds: 4-5.
Nine-time Grade One winner over fences and it’s easy to forgive his defeat at Ascot last year, his only loss over obstacles in 21 starts.
The lack of a recent run here is a slight worry, and he was only seen twice last season having suffered a couple of setbacks, but he won this race on his seasonal debut in 2018 on soft ground and is five from five at Sandown.
Is he as good as he once was? He’s ten rising 11 and you could argue he wasn’t at his best when last seen at Newbury, but that was his first start since his gruelling duel with Cyrname.
Will prove hard to beat if he is anywhere near his brilliant best, but he will need to be as he meets a couple of race-fit and progressive rivals, as well as the 2020 Champion Chase winner.
Trainer: Olly Murphy. Rating: 148. Sponsors odds: 20-1.
Useful hurdler who progressed to a similar level over fences last season and probably hasn’t reached his full potential yet.
Was a shade disappointing on his return in the Colin Parker, but he probably found the conditions too testing on that occasion, and at least he has the advantage of that run under his belt.
Would not want any more rain to arrive as he seems most suited to better ground.
Has work to do though as he is the lowest-rated contender in the field and will need at least a couple to underperform to be competitive.
3. CASTLEGRACE PADDY
Trainer: Pat Fahy. Rating: 154. Sponsors odds: 33-1.
Three-time Grade Two winner who defeated the 167-rated A Plus Tard on his return to action at Navan in November.
That was a useful effort on paper, although the runner-up was not at his best with bigger targets on the horizon, and the rest of the field disappointed.
Has failed to land a blow in six starts in Grade One contests which suggests he just falls short at this level and has a bit to find on the ratings with the leading protagonists.
Will appreciate any rain that falls as he has shown his best form on soft ground, but will need to improve to cause an upset here.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Rating: 158. Sponsors odds: 5-1.
Looked unlucky not to finish closer in the Grand Annual last season and proved that effort was no fluke when successful in the Haldon Gold Cup on his return.
He was mentioned as a potential Tingle Creek contender before that run, so is clearly held in high regard by Paul Nicholls and was ridden with plenty of confidence at Exeter.
Has won on soft and heavy ground and will bid to emulate stablemate Politologue who landed the Haldon Gold Cup en route to victory in the Tingle Creek in 2017.
Still needs to take another step forward, but he’s lightly-raced and his trainer continues in flying form, operating at a strike-rate of 25 per cent in the past fortnight.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Rating: 169. Sponsors odds: 5-1.
Ended last season on a high with victory in the Champion Chase when taking advantage of Defi Du Seuil’s below-par run. Nevertheless, he still produced an impressive display and is now rated just 3lb inferior to Altior.
Won this race in 2017 but could only manage fifth last year (was found to have bled afterwards) and has been defeated by Altior three times, although gave him a scare when runner-up in the 2019 Champion Chase.
The lack of a recent run should not be a hinderance as he has won three times following a 200-plus day break in the past and relishes soft ground.
Paul Nicholls has also won this race a record-breaking ten times and this will no doubt have been the plan for some time.
6. ROUGE VIF
Trainer: Harry Whittington. Rating: 164. Sponsors odds: 8-1.
You could only be impressed with his seasonal debut victory at Cheltenham where he bolted up off a rating of 156.
It may have only been a handicap, but he won it in the style of a Grade One performer and following an 8lb rise, he is now rated 8lb below Altior.
The six-year-old has always been held in high regard by connections and he is already a Grade Two winner over fences.
However, the ground has to be a worry here as he has been seen to best effect on quicker conditions thus far as he’s quick and has a high-cruising speed.
HARRY'S BIG-RACE VERDICT:
This is an intriguing contest despite only six runners going to post. Had no rain been forecast between now and Saturday, I would have taken a chance on Rouge Vif who is progressive, has the advantage of race fitness and was extremely impressive last time out.
The ground is surely going to be soft though by Saturday, which will not play to his strengths.
Altior is one of the greatest two-mile chasers of the modern era who would probably still be unbeaten over obstacles had Nicky Henderson not been persuaded to step him up in trip last year.
Although he lacks a recent run, he did have a racecourse gallop at Newbury ahead of this contest and things didn't exactly go to plan for him last season. He is rising 11 now, but a repeat of his latest performance in the Game Spirit would be good enough to win this.
Nicky Henderson also seems a lot happier with his supserstar this season and has been bullish about his chances this week.
I still think Greaneteen needs to take another big step forward to win this, which he could do, but he looks short enough on what he has achieved so far, although does have the advantage of race fitness.
Politologue looks the main danger, especially as he goes well fresh. Nicholls has a great record in this race and his Champion Chase hero is a high-class performer on his day.
Overall, it is hard to have a strong opinion in the race with so many question marks, but if I was forced to have a bet, it would have to be on ALTIOR.
We may not have seen him in action for 301 days, but there isn't any concrete evidence yet to suggest he isn't as good as he once was, despite nearing 11, and Sandown is clearly a track he relishes.Click here to claim your FREE Racing TV Christmas Jumper!
Select any odd to add a bet