The key to the outcome of the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday is the participation of the majestic Sprinter Sacre. Walkon is weighted to win the Becher Chase at Aintree, the first race over the Grand National fences this season. In Ireland on Sunday the John Durkan Chase sees the second run of the season for Flemenstar and the first race for Sir Des Champs since last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Sprinter Sacre is such a dominant force in the two mile division it is understandable that no bookmaker has priced up the Sandown race. If Sprinter Sacre runs he would be about 1/10 to win the race for the second time. It would then be something like 8/1 bar so if the Sprinter is withdrawn the second favourite would then become the new favourite at 2/1 or less.
There’s absolutely no point in trying to identify a horse to beat the wonderful animal in the care of the champion trainer, Nicky Henderson. Sprinter Sacre is unbeaten in 10 chases and won races at the three spring festivals at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown last season. He was imperious in the Champion Chase, beat Cue Card by more than four lengths in the Melling Chase at Aintree over 2 miles four furlongs and was workmanlike but effective in Ireland.
Sprinter Sacre is the highest rated horse in training and the shortest priced favourite for any race at next year’s Cheltenham Festival. There’s an outfit called Racebets who are advertising the favourite at 4/5 for Champion Chase but probably only to small stakes. This offer reminds me of what Coral did at last year’s Festival. I seem to remember they offered even money for small stakes. The response was such that their website crashed, just before the Coral Cup!
Sprinter Sacre is the only horse that is odds on to win at Cheltenham next March. Defending champions like Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and Quevega are all 3/1 or bigger which indicates how superior to the opposition Sprinter Sacre is over two miles. Henderson contemplated stepping up in distance this season but decided to stay at the minimum possibly to avoid a clash with another horse he trains, Simonsig.
The Melling Chase at Aintree this April could prove to be one of the hottest races ever. Cue Card had won the Ryanair Chase, was soundly beaten by Sprinter Sacre and then proved to be one of the best chasers in training in a Betfair Chase at Haydock last month. If Flemenstar can beat Sir Des Champs the form gets another boost as the first named was well beaten by Cue Card and Sprinter Sacre at Aintree.
Race sponsors, Channel 4 and Sandown racegoers will all hope Sprinter Sacre runs. The horse is now taking the sport away from the racing pages and into the general sports columns. He has the potential at eight to become the best jumper ever trained in Britain and even better the achievements of Best Mate, Kauto Star and Big Bucks in contemporary National Hunt racing.
Nicky Henderson seems genuine and very media friendly. Earlier this week he reported that his superstar horse had returned an unsatisfactory tracheal wash, which I believe means he has a sore throat, the horse not Henderson. It is to be applauded that Henderson has been so open and he genuinely sees his role as the custodian of an animal of unprecedented ability and class.
The horse seems well at home but will not run even if there is the smallest doubt about his well being. He will be tested again on Thursday morning and soon after running plans will be announced. Sprinter Sacre’s participation may make the race uncompetitive but the sport needs its superstars and horses like Sprinter Sacre and Frankel on the Flat bring the sport to a wider audience.
The main beneficiary if Sprinter Sacre did not run would be Somersby. He was receiving weight but beat Cue Card handily at Exeter in his last race. That would represent solid form in a race that did not involve Sprinter Sacre but clearly Somersby would be racing for place money if the Alpha male of jumps racing ran at Sandown.
There is only one day at Aintree on which there are two races run over the National fences. The course hosts just five races over the unique fences each year, one on each of the three days of the National meeting in April and the Becher Chase and Grand Sefton Chase on Saturday. The former was won by Hello Bud last year and the 14 year old was immediately retired. Hello Bud had previous form over the huge fences and that is often the key to identifying potential winners of races over that very special circuit of obstacles.
Walkon finished second to Triolo D’Arlene in last season’s Topham Chase, run over the abridged National course. He relished the unique track and in retrospect finishing just behind the subsequent winner of the Hennessey Gold Cup is solid form in the context of Saturday’s race. Walkon fell in the Old Roan Chase when returning to Aintree but there’s no comparison between the conventional fences and spruce fences at the track.
Sir Des Champs finished seven lengths behind Bobs Worth in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. The horse looked the most likely winner before the second last but could not match Bobs Worth’s stamina up the hill. Sir Des Champs has won in the past at the Festival and represents the powerful stable of Willie Mullins.
Flemenstar is now in the hands of Tony Martin, after being taken from Peter Casey. That trainer became known for his cheeky interviews after Flemenstar won a race. He lost his form somewhat, though twice over three miles in Ireland, but the run at Aintree was disappointing. A change of scenery and more suitable distance and track could see Flemenstar beat Sir Des Champs to become a factor in the race at Cheltenham that the trainer thinks is most suitable.