Kevin Blake's blog

    Leading racing writer Kevin Blake gives his verdict on a thrilling renewal of the Tingle Creek Chase - where Un De Sceaux defeated the likes of Sire De Grugy, God’s Own and Ar Mad - and analyses the electric two-mile novice chase division.

Thrilling Tingle Creek offers pointers to future

While much of the talk in the build-up to the Tingle Creek centred on a horse that didn’t run, those that did take part treated us to a contest that will live long in the memory.

While some greeted the result with the dry appraisal that Douvan is unlikely to lose any sleep over what transpired, it was a race that proved very informative and revealed new evidence of what the main protagonists are capable of and what they might be able to achieve in the future.

The Willie Mullins-trained UN DE SCEAUX has had a rough year or so. He began last season as the heir apparent to the Queen Mother Champion Chase crown, but his stock plummeted in the wake of two comprehensive defeats behind Sprinter Sacre.

It is remarkable just how quickly the racing public can seem to go off a horse after they fail to deliver when strongly fancied for a big race at the Cheltenham Festival and Un De Sceaux seemed to have more than his share of doubters leading up to the Tingle Creek.

The good-to-soft ground was feared to not be soft enough for him and that he had fallen through over-exuberance on his seasonal reappearance in each of the last two campaigns were both causes for concern, but as it transpired, both proved to be unfounded.

Far from the runaway front-runner he once was, Un De Sceaux was content to settle in behind the free-running leader Ar Mad and jumped efficiently for Ruby Walsh. Left in front by a mistake from the Ar Mad at the sixth-last fence, Un De Sceaux looked to be getting the better of Sire De Grugy approaching the penultimate fence, but he gave his rival another chance by clouting that obstacle.

Un De Sceaux rallied to regain the lead, but again he didn’t help himself by hitting the final fence whilst Sire De Grugy winged it to take the lead once again. Un De Sceaux had to dig deep, but he battled like a tiger to once again regain the lead and forge on to win a length.

While jumping is the name of the game, it was clear that Un De Sceaux was value for extra given the ground and momentum he sacrificed at the final two fences.

So, what conclusions to draw? Un De Sceaux hinted that he may well be getting more sensible last season and for him to produce such a settled performance on his first start of the season is the strongest evidence yet of how tractable he is becoming.

Having already won over as far as an extended 2m 5f, a return to longer trips looks likely to be on the cards. In the longer term, the Ryanair Chase could well be his optimum Cheltenham Festival target, but there will be plenty of hay to be made with him between now and then.

While we know he relished testing ground conditions, this performance reiterated that he is capable of showing a very high level of form on a sounder surface too.

In behind him, the likeable SIRE DE GRUGY showed his time at the top table is far from over despite his advancing years. Supporters of the third-placed GOD'S OWN will also take plenty of positives from how well he ran despite blundering at the second fence.

In terms of the future, perhaps the most encouraging run of all came from the fourth-placed AR MAD. In what was his first run since February, the six-year-old went off too quickly and exuberantly for his own good and mistakes at the sixth, seventh and eighth fences looked to seal his fate.

However, he conjured up a finishing effort that took him to within 3½ lengths of the winner at the line, very much suggesting that a return to a longer trip will suit. That run should serve to take some of the freshness-orientated exuberance out of his sails and better can be expected next time.

The Tingle Creek was only his sixth run over fences and while some concerns remain about his ability to be fully effective going left-handed, he remains a proper Grade 1 prospect.

Two-mile novice chase division looking electric

Of all the novice divisions in National Hunt racing, the two-mile novice chasers stand tall above the rest in terms of excitement this season. It is rarely a division that disappoints, but at this stage, it looks to have an unusual depth of quality that makes it one of the most exciting in the entire sport.

The current leader of the bunch and the most recent to strut his stuff on the track is the Nicky Henderson-trained ALTIOR.

The six-year-old was the summer favourite for the Arkle and impressed as much as he could on his chasing debut at Kempton last month given he only had one rival to contend with. He had a stiffer examination in Grade 1 company at Sandown on Saturday and while not everyone was impressed, I thought it was an excellent performance.

Yes, he wasn’t perfect, but Noel Fehily gave him a lovely education on what was essentially his competitive debut over fences and he reacted very well in the main.

He was brave enough to have a cut when he was long, which is so important for a potentially top-class two-mile chaser, and he was clever when he got in tight in behind rivals to safely negotiate the obstacle without losing much ground or momentum.

I have no doubt he will learn an awful lot from that run and will be even sharper next time. He is a tremendous prospect.

In any other season, Altior would perhaps already be an odds-on favourite for the Arkle, but waiting in the wings are at least two very serious rivals to him that are both unbeaten over fences.

Altior may already have seen off MIN in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but Min reportedly came home with a back issue that may have held him back on the day and given the impression he created when making a winning chasing debut at Navan last month, there will be plenty that will fancy his chances of reversing that form that Altior if they meet again back at Prestbury Park.

That IDENTITY THIEF is the 8/1 third favourite for the Arkle is a testament to just how much quality there is ahead of him.

A 159-rated Grade 1-winning hurdler, he was near faultless when making a winning chasing debut at Punchestown and didn’t seem to do much wrong when winning a Grade 2 novice chase back at that track in the fog last month.

The contest that decides the leading Irish challenger to Altior could well be the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. Identity Thief and Min are likely to clash there in a race that could well be one of the novice highlights of the Christmas period.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the Nicky Henderson-trained BUVEUR D'AIR is expected to make his chasing debut in the coming days and the Willie Mullins-trained YORKHILL is still under consideration for a novice chasing campaign. So, as exciting as the division already is, it could yet get even better.

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