Steeplechase Saturday Preview

Tingle Creek Day is just about my favourite day’s racing of the year: competitive handicaps galore all over the country, the National fences in use at Aintree, and graded two-mile chasing at Sandown, where only those who can cope with the furious pace through the railway fences will come to the fore.

As ever, the action at Sandown will be a terrific viewing spectacle, but both the Tingle Creek and the Henry VIII look as tough to negotiate for punters as those railway fences are for horses.

The eight runners in the Tingle Creek Chase do provide a cheeky each-way betting angle to the race, but strong place claims can be made for Politilogue, Sceau Royal, Janika and even Waiting Patiently based on his outstanding record right-handed, so there are no obvious bets there. In the win market, Defi Du Seuil is deservedly favourite, but only narrowly beat Politilogue at Cheltenham when in receipt of 3lbs that he won’t get here, and Un De Sceaux is 10/15 in 2-mile chases in his illustrious career and should be written off at punters’ peril. As I’m on course I’ll have an each-way punt, probably on Politilogue if 5s is available, but it’s impossible to have a strong view.

The Henry VIII Novices Chase is even more challenging from a betting perspective, especially with Maire Banrigh – who I would have backed due to her flawless jumping – being taken out at declarations making it a seven runner race. I can’t back a novice at Sandown on chasing debut, which takes out Grand Sancy, and I also can’t back a horse whose jumping is suspect at the Esher track, which removes Summerville Boy from the shortlist. That leaves Nube Negra and Torpillo, both of whom have impressed in their short chasing careers so far, but with the form of Nube Negra’s two wins totally disintegrating, I’ll be backing the favourite Torpillo, who helpfully gets a 6lb allowance from his elders and is 2/2 over hurdles at Sandown. Again, though, this is a tentative vote.

I’d much rather pick out some of the other races around the country where I do have strong views. Here’s my reasoning:

 

SANDOWN

The marathon London National Handicap Chase (3:55), run over 3m5f around Sandown’s unique jumping test, seldom offers up surprise winners. The four I’d shortlisted for this year’s renewal – Classic Ben, Step Beck, Royal Vacation and Sharp Response – are indeed the first four in the market, but given that of the last nine victors the longest price has been 14/1 and five have gone off single figures, that shouldn’t put us off, especially with some generous bookie terms on offer.

The one who appeals most of the quartet is STEP BACK. The nine-year-old won the Bet365 Gold Cup in 2018 over course and distance in sensational style, but disappointed in his three starts after that, most notably when jumping markedly right in the Grand National. He then returned to form in April – in exactly the same conditions he will be encountering in this race: 29 furlongs around Sandown on good ground. Another plus is that he’ll be piloted by Jamie Moore, who not only has an unmatched record around the unusual Esher track in chases, but also was on board Step Back for his big win. Mark Bradstock hasn’t given his stable star a prep run, but he went well fresh earlier in his career, so hopefully he’s fit and firing.

The problem with Step Back is that he is a mercurial talent, and sometimes he just doesn’t run anywhere near his best, for reasons Bradstock has struggled to pinpoint. That unreliability means stakes shouldn’t be too large, but if he is on song, he will surely go very close indeed down in class at his favourite venue.

 

AINTREE

It’s a real thrill to watch two races on the same day over the Grand National fences, and it’s those National fences that should be the key consideration when looking for value. Winners of both the Becher and Sefton will either have a proven track record over the big obstacles, or should stand out as super natural jumpers if they are yet to take the test. Those with any kinks in their jumping technique will quickly get found out, however good their form appears.

In the 3m2f Becher Handicap Chase Nigel Twiston-Davies has an outstanding record, with three wins in the last ten renewals, meaning his only entry Ballyoptic catches the eye. However the nine-year old has already had two very tough races this term from three starts, including his run just two weeks ago in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. That means looking elsewhere, and three experienced course specialists stand out.

2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur hasn’t won since – which is far from unusual – but looked back to form when finishing sixth in last year’s renewal. He then shaped nicely at Kelso in October before tailing off as if needing the run. Lucinda Russell’s ten-year-old was dropped to a mark of just 149 for that encouraging effort, only one pound higher than when winning the big one in 2017, so he definitely can’t be dismissed.

Vieux Lion Rouge seems to come alive over the big fences at Aintree, and his record of never falling in his many runs around the Grand National course is truly extraordinary. Second in last year’s Becher off 146, he runs off 145 this time and showed he retained his enthusiasm for the game by battling to a narrow victory in a good veterans’ race at Chepstow in October. This race will have always been David Pipe’s target ever since, and he seems almost certain to be there or thereabouts yet again.

But perhaps the best handicapped of the three course specialists is last year’s winner WALK IN THE MILL, also the youngest at nine. He won the 2018 race fairly handily from a mark of 137, and despite a good fourth in the Grand National runs off just 141 this time, which seems bizarrely lenient from the handicapper. The concern is his lifeless run in the Badger Ales in November – he was third in a decent handicap before winning last year’s renewal – but he was sent off 20/1 at Wincanton so was potentially simply not ready.

Having picked out three notable course specialists in the Becher, it’s suprirsing to see so few entered in the 2m5f Sefton Handicap Chase later in the afternoon. The clear exception to that is Ultragold, who boasts a terrific record over these tough fences. But Colin Tizzard’s charge is now eleven years old, and has been running over longer trips that this for the past 18 months; as such there’s a worry he could find himself outpaced at key moments here.

With Ultragold reluctantly – and perhaps foolishly! – passed over, the next best ‘specialist’ to consider is Flying Angel, but the best performance he can boast in this race from two starts is 6th off a mark of 142, and so he can also be dismissed, especially at short prices.

That means we are looking for a stand-out natural jumper in the field whose jumping will prove an asset, and that horse might be DIDERO VALLIS. He was foot-perfect as a novice round Carlisle, then Haydock in an open handicap, and coped well with Cheltenham’s challenges when 5th in the competitive Brown Advisory in March. His run first-time out at Ascot two weeks ago was too bad to be true, and given he raised his RPR from 53 to 136 between his first and second runs last season, it can be overlooked. Clearly this is a speculative bet, and so small stakes are advised, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Didero Vallis is a better horse than his mark of 134, and there’s a good chance he will enjoy this severe test of jumping.

Finally, MASON JAR merits a small wager in the 1:00 Handicap Hurdle, simply due to his form. The five-year old hammered House Island at Kempton, who has since won and then narrowly finished second today in a terrific graded race at Sandown. He then handed Dorking Boy a seven-length beating at Ascot, and Tom Lacey’s hurdler is now rated 123 via a win at Taunton. With Cillin Leonard on board claming seven pounds, and trainer Dr Newland in a rich vein of form (33/126 this season and +8.19 in hurdles; 2 winners this week), Mason Jar can’t go unbacked, despite this looking a hot renewal.

 

Recommended Bets:

Sandown 3:35 – Step Back 1pt e/w @ 6/1 (4 places)

Aintree 1:00 – Mason Jar 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (3 places)

Aintree 1:30 – Walk In The Mill 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (5 places)

Aintree 3:15 – Didero Vallis 0.5pts e/w @ 10/1 (4 places)

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