Declan Rix

Declan Rix covers the graduation of Defi Du Seuil into a top-class two-mile chaser after his victory in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown on Saturday.

  • Sunday 08 December
  • Blog
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TINGLE CREEK SEUIL SEUIL GOOD AGAIN

Ask any National Hunt fan, what do they do enjoy most about jumps racing, and I bet a fair few will respond, “two-mile chasing”. It’s the most gripping discipline for many reasons; the speed, the jumping, indeed, the jumping at speed.

It’s a fantastic spectacle where the error for margin is so minute. As we watch, in our subconscious, this all plays on our minds as we lean forward into the TV, watching closely. The senses are heightened, as is our heart rate. There simply isn’t anything like Championship two-mile chasing.

With so many of National Hunt’s greats having competed in the division, it’s easy to see why we engage so much with races like the Tingle Creek. This year’s Betfair-sponsored Grade 1 race had no Moscow Flyer, Kauto Star, Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre or Altior (at his peak) in terms of ability but it still served up a great contest from flag drop to the finish line.

The suspense was heightened before the race had even jumped off, a false start not helping runners that clearly knew they were heading into battle. The farcical standing start protocol in Britain continues, but thankfully, this time, everybody got a fair crack. And boy, did they serve up a thriller on the back of it!

On softish ground, the race looked to be run at a good gallop, thanks to Ornua, with the evergreen Un De Sceaux keeping him honest just behind. Most of the main protagonists seemed to jump well, apart from a Waiting Patiently mistake at the second of the Railway Fences. After these three famous obstacles were jumped, the race really looked to take shape.

Harry Cobden and Politologue looked beaten by this stage, the grey surely not running his race, while the usually strong-travelling Janika was being squeezed along. Waiting Patiently was too under pressure here while both Defi Du Seuil and Un De Sceau went through their respective races like class acts.

After the Pond Fence, the Philip Hobbs and Willie Mullins pair drew their pistols and kicked off the bend. It looked a two-horse race. Barry Geraghty’s body language was always that bit more positive aboard Defi Du Seuil approaching two out, and he took dead aim at the all-out Paul Townend-ridden Un De Sceaux.

His customary change of foot, an asset so rare in National Hunt horses, saw him close the gap on the runner-up between the final two fences and a cleaner jump at the last helped settle the score. It appeared on landing the son of Voix Du Nord was going on to win readily, but Un De Sceaux never gave up and the seemingly well-held Waiting Patiently entered the picture late, for all he never looked like winning.

In the end, Defi Du Seuil clung on by a fast-fading neck and while some have put forward the theory he was idling, giving Un De Sceaux a second bite, I can’t have it. In another 50 yards, maybe less, Un De Sceaux was back in front while Ruth Jefferson’s stable star (Waiting Patiently) manged to get within ¾ of a length of the runner-up.

While you could maybe say JP McManus’s horse was a touch lucky to hold on, given the 1m7½f trip, Defi Du Seuil deserves great credit for adapting to top-class two-mile chasing in open company. In this discipline, Saturday was his acid test, where jumping at pace would be tried, and from this point of view, the six-year-old passed in good style.

Defi Du Seuil’s jumping has taken some refining; as a novice he could fling himself at a fence, jumping a bit high into the air, but on the evidence of this season’s Shloer Chase and Saturday’s Tingle Creek, he is getting slicker.

In terms of the level of form, however, I don’t think it’s a race we can go too overboard on, just yet. It’s obviously top-class form, but not outstanding, and beating a soon-to-be 12-year-old in Un De Sceaux should set off at least small alarm bells. I think this is natural.

Yes, Un De Sceaux did win a Grade 1 in his last start of 2018/19 in the Champion Chase at Punchestown, beating Min, but I’m always wary  of form at the Aintree and Punchestown festivals, especially on the back of Cheltenham Festival runs, where horses are primed for what is often the biggest day(s) of their season in March.

Whether Un De Sceaux is actually as good as his 171-official rating, I have my doubts at his age and while Waiting Patiently at his peak is probably in-and-around 165, I would also have doubts about him being that good over the minimum trip on the back of a disappointing 2018/19 campaign.

I would have Defi Du Seuil running to 162 here. For context in the division, I had Altior running to 165 in last season’s Champion Chase victory. Altior’s 2018 Champion Chase I have as a 177-rated performance, but ‘that’ Altior is long odds-on to be gone now, for all I still had him running to 168 behind Cyrname last time out.  

Ratings aside (I’m sure plenty get bored with that talk!), it was great to see two huge runs from Un De Sceaux and Waiting Patiently. For Un De Sceaux to still be giving the young guns of the game a lesson and making the likes of Defi Du Seuil pull out all the stops at the age of 11 is simply incredible. He still races like an eight-year-old and seems to be enjoying life as a race horse as much as ever. He’s a horse you run out of superlatives for. Truly a legend of the game.

Ruth Jefferson is another that should take plaudits for the run of Waiting Patiently. It’s easy forget what he did in the 2018 Ascot Chase when beating Cue Card, Frodon and Top Notch is a sensational time. Life hasn’t been easy for Richard Collins’s horse since, only seeing the racetrack three times before Saturday’s big run, but this effort can hopefully tee up a big season for the eight-year-old.

TINGLE CREEK VS HENRY VIII NOVICES' TIME COMPARISON

The great thing about having the Tingle Creek and the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase on the same card, is we can get a good look at both respective horses from a time comparison. Last year’s card was affected by heavy rain before the Tingle Creek won by Altior, but thankfully, on Saturday, a dry day meant an easy comparison could be made.

Both races were run in a remarkably similar but not identical manner. Just 0.70s separated the final winning times, the novices clocking a final time of 3m 59.70s and the Tingle Creek registering 3m 59.00s.

The early pace in the Tingle Creek was slightly faster; after two fences Ornua was 3 lengths in front of Torpillo, the pace-setter in the Henry VIII. At the start of the back straight, Ornua was still 3 lengths ahead. The pace then picked up slightly in comparison Torpillo, who after the Railway fences was about 6 lengths behind Ornua and then 7 lengths behind having jumped the Pond Fence (3out).

Another reason to maybe doubt the level of the form in the Tingle Creek, in terms of getting carried away with it, is what both the Henry VIII winner Esprit Du Large and Defi Du Seuil did from four and three out, respectively.

From both junctures, the Evan Williams-trained Grade 1 novice winner was about 6 lengths quicker home than Defi Du Seuil.

For all Defi Du Seuil was carrying 5lb more and chased a slightly stronger pace, if he was an outstanding Tingle Creek winner, I would expect him to cover the latter stages of the race at least the same, if not quicker, even at these weights, because this season’s renewal of the Henry VIII looked a below par running going in.

Of course, another way of looking at all this, could simply mean that Esprit Du Large and runner-up Nube Negra are two proper novice chasers in the making. To be fair, they both jumped well and given the gallop they faced on the ground, I was impressed with how they saw out their races.

They were both mid-130-rated novice hurdlers though, so can they, in the space of seven to eight months, all of a sudden blossom into outstanding novice chasers, for all they jump well? Because a time comparison would suggest they are, but their previous abilities shown last season and the third and fourth disappointing in the Henry VIII make me dubious.

From a time perspective, I suspect the answer may lie in the middle; at the moment, it was a sound Tingle Creek renewal, but a good Henry VIII, although I remain sceptical on the novice race. As ever, the future holds the key and will tell us more.

A big congratulations to trainer Evan Williams and jockey Adam Wedge, though, who both registered their maiden Grade 1 victories in Britain thanks to Esprit Du Large. 

Declan Rix
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