Last year's Betfair Tingle Creek winner and reigning two-mile champion Altior may be missing Saturday's Grade 1 but a thrilling contest is still on the cards.
Un de Sceaux was no match for Altior in last year's Tingle Creek but he put up a typical display of enthusiastic front-running and superb jumping to finish runner-up, beaten by four lengths. Un de Sceaux had a rare off-day in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham but put that behind him when returning to his best to win the Champion Chase at Punchestown for the second year running.
There was no sign of the years catching up with Un de Sceaux when he was last seen in April and any further rain this week will be welcomed by the Willie Mullins camp.
Un de Sceaux tops the Timeform ratings but, rising twelve, he'll be the senior runner in the race and faces some high-class younger rivals who are still improving. Five years his junior, Defi du Seuil has the most scope to progress and is compiling an excellent record over fences.
Since being beaten on his chasing debut, Lostintranslation and Un de Sceaux's exciting stablemate Chacun Pour Soi are the only horses to have beaten him. But two subsequent victories over Lostintranslation, the first at Sandown in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, and the second in a seriously strong JLT at Cheltenham, give Defi du Seuil decent claims.
Having too much speed for a subsequent Betfair Chase winner over two and a half miles last term is one thing, but Defi du Seuil showed that he's going to be a force to reckon with against the best two milers this season when returning with victory in a tactical four-runner Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month. In what proved a game of cat and mouse, Defi du Seuil showed a good turn of foot after the last when beating Politologue by just over a length. That makes Defi du Seuil a worthy favourite for Saturday's race, though he's a short price given that all bar two of the eight entries are covered by just 5 lb on the ratings.
Defi du Seuil will need to improve, too, because he was getting 3 lb from Politologue at Cheltenham. In theory, level weights should swing things in favour of the grey who gave Paul Nicholls his tenth win in the Tingle Creek two years ago and his jockey Harry Cobden his first Grade 1 success over fences. But, it's not just the slight pull at the weights that gives Politologue a sound chance of turning the tables on the favourite. Philip Hobbs stressed that Defi du Seuil had done plenty of work ahead of his return, with two racecourse gallops putting him in top shape for his return.
Paul Nicholls, on the other hand, described the Shloer as no more than a ‘prep' race for Politologue ahead of his bid to win the Tingle Creek again. This year's race looks a stronger renewal than the one he won two years ago, but Politologue, now regularly hooded and tongue tied, has developed into a top-class chaser since then. He proved that when bettering all his previous efforts at Cheltenham in getting to within a couple of lengths of Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March having briefly held every chance.
Nicholls believes Politologue is best coming off a strong pace, something that Un de Sceaux can be expected to provide. That should suit Politologue much more than the Shloer in which he had to make his own running before Defi du Seuil pounced late, a less than fluent jump at the last not helping his cause. At the prices, as well as the revised weight terms, Politologue looks worth supporting.
Nicky Henderson will be more than an interested observer in Saturday's race as he saddles another of the potential improvers. Janika, like Defi du Seuil only a six-year-old, failed to win in his first season for Henderson after coming from France but a series of good efforts in defeat in well-contested races saw his handicap mark rise by 17 lb. Nonetheless, he was better than ever when making a successful reappearance under top weight in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last month, conceding 5 lb to Politologue's stablemate Dolos whom he could meet again on better terms.
Janika's owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede could be doubly represented if Sceau Royal makes his reappearance for Alan King. He was a well-held last of four in last year's Tingle Creek, having won the Shloer beforehand, but has no problems with the track as he won the Henry VIII Novices' on this card two years ago. Much the best of Sceau Royal's three meetings with Altior last season came in the Queen Mother Champion Chase when he even looked the potential winner jumping into the lead before Politologue, as well as Altior, proved too strong for him up the hill.
Further interest to the line-up would be added if Ruth Jefferson gives the go-ahead for Waiting Patiently to run. He hasn't raced over two miles since the start of his novice chase season, after which he developed into one of the most exciting chasing prospects around. Things went less well for him in another very light campaign in 2018/19, however, and he returns with a bit to prove after ending last season with a heavy defeat, in first-time cheekpieces, in the Melling Chase at Aintree.
The entries are completed by Ornua who won four times last season for Henry de Bromhead, including the Maghull Novices' Chase at Aintree. He's entitled to be better for a recent return to action at Naas but has it all to do in this company. However, as a confirmed front runner, he could play an important part in ensuring a good gallop along with, or instead of, Un de Sceaux.
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