The Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday is a Grade 1 chase over 2 miles. This year’s race had been the early-season target of the last two Champion chasers but both have been forced to miss the event through injury.
Reigning two-mile Champion Sire De Grugy suffered a hip injury at home which will keep him out until the New Year while Nicky Henderson has decided against running Sprinter Sacre. The eight-year-old is the highest rated chaser in training but has not raced since pulling up with an irregular heartbeat at Kempton last December.
The race has been won by some of the most popular chasers in modern times including Desert Orchid, Moscow Flyer and Kauto Star. The withdrawal of the big two has certainly opened up the race with a large field now expected after eighteen horses were declared on Monday.
If you’re identifying a favourite for the Tingle Creek, no trainer has a better record in this race than Paul Nicholls who won it eight times between 1999 and 2010. His first winner was Flagship Uberalles who went on to win for different trainers in 2000 and 2001. Nicholls struck again with Cenkos in 2002 before Kauto Star (2005, 2006), Twist Magic (2007, 2009) and Master Minded (2008, 2010) gave him an unprecedented six consecutive winners.
Nicholls has entered Dodging Bullets and Hinterland this year, both of which tasted defeat on their seasonal debut. Hinterland would appear to be the ideal candidate for this race having won the Henry VIII Chase last year over course and distance. However, he was pulled up after breaking a blood vessel behind God’s Own at Exeter last month and that has to be a concern.
Dodging Bullets [pictured] was strongly fancied for last year’s Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham but he raced too keenly and faded into fourth place. He ran well at the same course last month behind Uxizandre and looks the more likely of the two to add to Nicholls’s tally in the race. He is certainly in the right age bracket with five, six and seven-year-olds having the best record.
The only older horses to win this race in the past twenty years have been Moscow Flyer and Sizing Europe, both Champions Chase winners. None of this year’s entries over the age of eight are in that class so it is difficult to see the likes of Alderwood, Somersby or Wishfull Thinking adding their name to the roll of honour.
Recent winning form has been a common feature among winners of this race and God’s Own and the Willie Mullins trained duo of Ballycasey and Twinlight come into this category. Ballycasey was aimed at the three-mile RSA Chase last season in which he finished fourth. He was an impressive winner at Gowran Park last month but this looks on the sharp side for him. The worry with Twinlight is his jumping as he is inclined to hit one or two and he cannot afford mistakes in a race of this quality.
God’s Own produced a stunning display to win at Punchestown in May and beat Balder Succes by five lengths on his reappearance at Exeter. The runner-up was conceding 7lbs that day and made a crucial mistake three out. God’s Own was not foot perfect himself so it would be difficult to argue that he did not win on merit. Balder Succes had beaten God’s Own at Kempton last February but jumped poorly here in the Henry VIII at a time when the King stable were badly out of form.
Mullins has also entered Felix Yonger who was nearly four lengths behind God’s Own at Punchestown. He was runner-up to Moscow Mannon at Naas at the start of November but needs to put up a career-best to win this.
Nicky Henderson relies on Oscar Whisky who ran a fine race when fourth to Caid Du Berlais at Cheltenham in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. He carried 11st 12lb that day and was only beaten two and a quarter lengths. His best form over hurdles was at two and a half miles and all three of his chase victories have come at that distance.
God’s Own currently leads Balder Succes 2-1 on their head-to-head clashes but the market still favours Alan King’s runner. God’s Own looked good value for his win at Exeter and could confirm the form on Saturday.
Paul Nicholls has a great record in the race and Dodging Bullets is preferred to Hinterland after his very encouraging run at Cheltenham. He still held every chance going to the last fence and that should have put him spot on for this. He could be the each-way value in a very competitive renewal.