ALTIOR COMES OUT ON TOP IN A THRILLING TINGLE CREEK
Altior had to be at his gritty best to pick up the mud-loving Un De Sceaux in Saturday’s Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown. In the end, four lengths separated the two National Hunt greats in what was a war of attrition over two miles on very soft ground. On route, the duo left a pair of good, young, fit, inform and improving chasers in their wake, as Saint Calvados and Sceau Royal trailed in 19 and 24 lengths, respectively, behind Altior.
Soft going on the chase course at Sandown got worse as the day continued, a brutal downpour before the three o’clock off time making conditions dark and horrible. It is under these circumstances that the strong-galloping Un De Sceaux has always thrived, meaning Altior had to be as tough as he is brilliant to overcome the life-thirsty soon-to-be 11-year-old.
While Un De Sceaux was a worthy foe in the circumstances, especially helped by his slick jumping, you always felt Altior and Nico de Boinville had matters under control. When Ruby Walsh asked Un De Sceaux to ever so slightly up the ante turning into the back straight, it seemed Saint Calvados and especially Sceau Royal were feeling the pinch. That pinch grew ever sorer as the Willie Mullins inmate made his merry way down the back straight. All the time, De Boinville was sitting pretty aboard the eventual winner, mind.
After jumping the famous three Railway Fences, Walsh removed a pair of goggles - the Irish raiding party now meant business - and it was clear from here Sceau Royal was a spent force, while Saint Calvados was coming under ever-increasing pressure. Approaching the Pond Fence (three out), it was a two-horse race, but by two out, Altior looked to have all bases covered.
Un De Sceaux’s jumping kept him in the fight over the final two fences, but after the last, the customary Altior turbo-boost kicked in and he powered away for victory. This astonishing ability Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old has, to separate himself from top-class horses in the closing stages of a race is nothing like I’ve ever seen before; its consistency just as impressive as it is on the eye.
There was a small moment of worry for Altior’s fans however, where an astonishingly huge leap, and I mean astonishingly huge, at the second fence sent Nico de Boinville into orbit, with the horse’s hind legs seemingly coming down on the fence. It reminded me of a similar leap Sprinter Sacre put in at the same obstacle when winning his only Tingle Creek on the very same day six years previous.
While Sprinter’s jump wasn’t as high, and had a cleaner landing, after yesterday’s victory, it dawned on me once again, at his very best, Sprinter Sacre was officially rated 13lb higher than Altior. That essentially means, Sprinter Sacre was a 13 lengths better horse than the current Champion Chaser, an incredible thought, given we know we are in the midst of equine greatness with Altior.
This win now means the son of High Chaparral is unbeaten in 15 starts over jumps. Since the Patricia Pugh's star has gone over obstacles, he has yet to be beaten, winning seven Grade 1s and being a three-time Cheltenham Festival winner. His brilliance is matched by his courage and will to win, that is a formidable combo. It's great to be witnessing another special horse.
SEASON HOPEFULLY STARTING TO TAKE SHAPE
It’s been a hugely strange season being a National Hunt racing fan, even more so if you are an owner or trainer, I’d imagine. The lack of rain in Britain and Ireland still feels like we have yet to fully get going this campaign, this especially the case in Ireland, despite the fact we are now in December.
I still can’t help but feel there is so much more to come, especially where the Cheltenham Festival is concerned. With ever-increasing emphasis placed on those four days in March, all major races on the run-up obviously affect associated ante-post markets.
Ante-post betting for Cheltenham is one of my favourite aspects about the jumps season every year, but I’ve found it hard to be concrete on any potential plays given the nature of the this campaign. Annamix for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Paloma Blue in the Arkle and Vinndicationin the JLT and RSA are the only bets I’ve had so far this season, but even those punts were done based on 2017/18 evidence.
OK, that’s a bit of a lie, I must admit I’ve followed the hype with Annamix in the Supreme after his owner Rich Ricci gave him as a horse to follow on ITV Racing. In the office, I’ve been labelled a mug, potentially fair, but the hype wasn’t too far wrong with the likes of Douvan, Min and Melon in recent years.