Michael Dorgan looks ahead to an exciting weekend of racing where the Tingle Creek at Sandown and Punchestown’s John Durkin Memorial Chase take centre stage.
The National Hunt season is well and truly underway and ten horses go to post in Saturday’s 888sport Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown where Alan King’s BALDER SUCCES heads the market for the 2 mile Grade 1 contest.
This race has been taken by the likes of KAUTO STAR, MOSCOW FLYER, MASTER MINDED and SIZING EUROPE over the last number of years and with former winners SPRINTER SACRE and SIRE DE GRUGY both still on the sidelines, the race is an ideal opportunity for a new star to lay down an early marker in the Champion Chase scene.
The in-form Richard Johnson will be taking over the reins on Balder Succes as regular rider Wayne Hutchinson is out injured. The six-year-old struck at Grade One level as a novice at Aintree in April but had to settle for second place to the Tom George-trained Gods Own on his seasonal return. Balder Succes was giving Gods own 7lbs for that 5 length defeat and Johnson will be hoping he can get the better of Paddy Brennan’s mount and go one better this time around as they lock horns at level weights.
Barry Geraghty resumes allegiances with the Nicky Henderson trained OSCAR WHISKY who ran a blinder when beaten by two lengths in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month under top weight.
There has been huge support all week for Harry Fry’s five-year-old VUKOVAR, who has been backed in from 25-1 to as short as 8-1 despite having just one novice chase win to his name in three starts since arriving from France.
Elsewhere Paul Nicholls, who is no stranger to winning this race, saddles DODGING BULLETS and HINTERLAND, who will be ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies and Noel Fehily respectively. Fit-again champion jockey Tony McCoy rides the Mick Channon-trained Somersby who disappointed on his seasonal return, but ran a better race when runner-up at Ascot next time out.
Colin Tizzard’s THIRD INTENTION, Venetia Williams’ mare PEPITE ROSE and WILLIAMS WISHES from Evan Williams’ stable complete the field.
This years Tingle Creek is a wide-open affair and the stats make interesting reading. 8 out of the 9 last winners have been aged five, six or seven, 9 out of the last 10 had already won a Grade 1 with 7 out of 10 rated in the 167 to 179 bracket. While no chaser in the field ticks all three boxes I’m not convinced Balder Succes can overturn Gods Own, even at level weights.
God’s Own also beat Balder Succes at Punchestown last May and looks like a real improver. A lot of fences come quite rapidly at Sandown and I think this will play into Gods Owns strengths as his jumping was impressive at Exeter while Balder Succes was awkward enough, especially at the last few fences.
While I’m a huge Oscar Whisky fan, the two-mile trip is a huge negative for the nine-year-old as he hasn’t run over this distance since his bumper days and older horses have a poor record in this race. If the ground continues to deteriorate it will play into his hands and the stiff hill to the line will suit Barry Geraghty’s mount who is “very sweet on his chances”.
Selection: Gods Own e/w
In the Irish scene, Sunday sees the return to action of Gold Cup hero LORD WINDEMERE who makes his seasonal reappearance in the Grade One John Durkin Memorial Chase at Punchestown. However, due to the inadequate two and a half mile trip, the Gordon Elliott trained and Down Royal Festival winner DON COSSACK is the short-priced favourite for the race with young Brian O Connell in the saddle due to Bryan Cooper’s suspension. It will be Cossack’s third outing this season having already beaten LOOSEN MY LOAD in October before claiming a Grade 2 prize at Down Royal last month for Gordon Elliott.
Also in the lineup will be the Willie Mullins trained Punchestown Gold Cup winner BOSTON BOB, who returned to action in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal last month where he was a distant third to another Gigginstown Stud representative, ROAD TO RICHES, TEXAS JACK, RATHLIN and BAILEY GREEN make up the remainder.
Selection: Don Cossack
In other news, Davy Russell and Phillip Enright were both handed 5-day bans for a rather bizarre incident at Clonmel on Wednesday. The two-time champion jockey was on board the 8/13 favourite LEAVE AT DAWN in the Powerstown Handicap Hurdle but lost his whip early on in the race. As the riders made their first turn for home, Russell discreetly leaned over and took Enright’s whip who was on 33/1 outsider BACKINYOURBOX. Both mounts consequently finished well down the field.
This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on December 5, 2014. To view the original version, click here.