There may not have been a fourth success for Un De Sceaux in the Matchbook Clarence House Chase – but it was a defeat that left connections proud of one of National Hunt racing’s most loved characters.
To those visiting the track for the first time it would have been easy to think the Willie Mullins-trained 12-year-old had just captured the race he made his own between 2016 and 2018, given the reception he received from those around the Ascot winner’s enclosure.
While the close battle the pair enjoyed in the Tingle Creek at Sandown last month was not to be repeated, with Defi Du Seuil prevailing by a comfortable two and three-quarter lengths, it was a race connections of the runner-up believed was a positive result for the sport.
Colm O’Connell, son of owner Edward O’Connell, said: “It is brilliant the reception he has received. He is a magical horse and it is great to be here.
“The build up has been great and this is what people want. They want a match. You don’t need 20 horses to make a race. Get two horses at it get two owners that want it – it shows good craic, good banter, good fun and the public want it.
“Un De Sceaux is a great horse. He loves the track and the crowd love him. He really is a people’s favourite. I don’t know if a horse will ever win three Clarence Houses in a row, as it takes some doing.”
Although gracious in defeat, O’Connell believes Un De Sceaux’s latest loss to Defi Du Seuil echoed shades of his first victory in the race back in 2016, when he was on the way to reaching the peak of his career.
He added: “Before when we beat Sire De Grugy we were on the upgrade and his career was coming down and we have to take our medicine as age waits for no one.
“There was no hard-luck story. We are not moaning or crying, we were beaten fair and square by a better horse on the last two occasions.
“The last horse we were beaten into second twice in succession by was Sprinter Sacre, so that tells you something.
“You always dream, but at Swinley Bottom you could see he wasn’t going to win. In the Tingle Creek I thought we had a chance, but today we were beaten fair and square.
“Barry (Geraghty) was always just sitting nicely behind Paul (Townend). We came on (from Sandown), but he (Defi Du Seuil) has come on leaps and bounds and is a brilliant horse. JP McManus (owner) is brilliant for the game.”
With Un De Sceaux now in the twilight of his career, O’Connell hopes there remains one final hurrah before the end of the season, ahead of calling it a day with a horse that has given pleasure to so many over the years.
He said: “I talked to Willie afterwards and he said don’t make any decision today. We are 12 now and if had won today we might have retired him, but the aim is to see these colours on track once more.
“He won’t go to Leopardstown, he might go to Cheltenham for the Ryanair or Queen Mother, he won’t go to Sandown for the Celebration Chase because of the ground and he might go to Punchestown, but to get a win there will be hard.
“It is time now to just enjoy him.”