David Cleary looks back at a vintage Betfair Tingle Creek and the pick of other recent action, while our Exchange team updates the big antepost betting news for the Festival...
"Red Rising couldn't cope with Bags Groove in the end, but he's now produced two really promising efforts in novice chases, his jumping holding up well under pressure, and he looks just the sort to make a big impact in staying handicap chases later in the campaign."
As if he needed to, Altior confirmed his position as the best jumper in training with an outstanding effort in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday, when, bar a hiccough at the second fence, he gave his supporters not a moment's worry.
Altior - unassailable in the Champion Chase?
The champion two-mile chaser jumped with clinical precision over the other 12 fences and found loads on the stiff run-in after he'd drawn alongside Un de Sceaux in the straight. Altior is unbeaten now in 15 races over jumps, a sequence that doesn't seem likely to end any time soon - he's rightly a short price favourite for the Champion Chase in March.
Un de Sceaux himself ran as well as he ever has, the downpour prior to the race helping his cause, but he just couldn't match a great chaser when it mattered. He's rising 11 but still a top-class chaser under the right conditions.
Charbel looks a Grade 1 candidate
Two horses that have, briefly, looked as if they might give Altior something of a race at least were in action on Sunday - Min, runner-up in the 2018 Champion Chase, getting Ruby Walsh out of a hole to land the John Durkan at Punchestown on his return; Charbel, still in play when falling in the 2017 Arkle, producing a career best in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
Min has twice been outpointed by Altior at Cheltenham and connections may want to consider avoiding him , with the Ryanair as a Festival option, though he should continue to prosper on home soil.
Charbel was a revelation at Huntingdon, his quick and accurate jumping the key under an attacking ride from Noel Fehily, standing in for a concussed David Bass. Charbel has run two fine races this autumn and should continue to thrive, particularly when returned to further - the Betfair Ascot Chase in February looks the right sort of race at Grade 1 level.
Dollars collects as Lalor fluffs his lines
If the Tingle Creek lived up to its billing, the Henry VIII for novices over the same course and distance, was a little bit of a let-down, the favourite Lalor not in the same form as at Cheltenham on his chasing debut. With the experienced Irish-trained novice Ornua going off hard, sound jumping was very much at a premium, and Lalor, on softer ground and off a stronger pace, didn't jump so well as he had first time up. He's obviously worth another chance.
So, too, is Pingshou, who never recovered from belting the first. Pingshou had been fourth to Lalor at Cheltenham, but it was the runner-up there, Dynamite Dollars, who managed to overhaul Ornua.
Dynamite Dollars coped well with the greater demands placed on jumping and with more testing ground than he'd encountered at Cheltenham. Which of the trio emerges the best in the longer run remains open to question (Lalor is the shortest priced still in the Arkle market), but Dynamite Dollars is evidently better than he looked last time.
Bags in the Groove again
There were plenty of interesting performances on the novice chase front, away from Sandown, with Bags Groove deserving top billing for an electric display of jumping at Huntingdon. This was in a lower grade race than last time, but the opposition was stronger and that he saw them off as well as he did augurs well for tasks ahead, particularly as it showed his effectiveness at three miles. Next stop is likely to be the Kauto Star at Kempton, where he'll take some pegging back in this form.
Red Rising couldn't cope with Bags Groove in the end, but he's now produced two really promising efforts in novice chases, his jumping holding up well under pressure, and he looks just the sort to make a big impact in staying handicap chases later in the campaign.
Moon fails to shine
Mr Whipped got off the mark over fences at the second attempt, in the mud at Haydock, and is likely to continue in the right direction, particularly as his stamina is further drawn out. His win was a further boost to Count Meribel's form at Cheltenham, but White Moon, who looked likely to win when coming down at the last that day, was well beaten at Exeter on Friday. Perhaps the fall had unsettled him, as he jumped with little fluency over Exeter's easy fences.
The Exeter race is a bit of a headscratcher overall and may not be the most reliable form. Black Op ran as if needing the run and Topofthegame forfeited considerable ground by going sideways at the start, which left the race to Defi du Seuil. The winner was much more at home over these fences than he had been at Cheltenham last month, but it was still surprising that he could win in such clear-cut fashion.
At a slightly lower level at Ludlow, it's worth remembering Head To The Stars. He's yet to complete in two starts over fences, though he was unfortunate on this occasion, moving into contention when slipping badly four out, losing all chance.
Ramses stakes National claims
So far as handicap chases are concerned, the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow is well worth a second look. The winner Ramses de Teillee is something of a Chepstow specialist and he put himself to the head of the market for the Welsh National itself with a totally convincing display. He picks up a 4-lb penalty, but that just ensures he gets a run, and he certainly looks as if the longer trip in the real thing will suit him down to the ground.
The third home Ami Desbois turned in his most convincing display over fences and looks well up to winning handicaps off his current mark. Splitting the pair was Prime Venture, already a regular in this column, who was much more competitive than had been the case in non-handicaps. Had he not made a mistake three from home, when making smooth headway, Prime Venture might well have finished further clear of the third and certainly has races in him over fences.
Not much to report this week. The remarkable Frodon heads the weights for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, with Baron Alco and Rather Be also among the entries. Casablanca Mix is also entered there, as well as back over hurdles at both Cheltenham and Hereford, with Ratoute Yutty also in at the former. Theclockisticking has an assortment of weekend entries in novice chases.
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Crack 2 mile steeplechasers Altior and Un De Sceaux produced a fight up the Esher straight in Saturdays Betfair Tingle Creek reminiscent of the halcyon days of Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop. The reigning champion was well on top in the end tightening his grip on the Champion Chase market cut to [1.75].
Also at Sandown we saw a regressive performance from one time Arkle favourite Lalor now out to [8.8] and on a retrieval mission.
Over at Aintree we witnessed Definitely Red maintain his love affair with at least one half of the Merseyside faithful grinding out a bloodless four length victory in the Many Clouds Chase. This Brian Ellison inmate was only clipped slightly in the Gold Cup betting to [38.0].
Charbel won the Edredon Bleu Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday, in doing so shortening slightly into [21.0] for the Festival’s Ryanair Chase.
Over in the Ireland, Min wrestled his way to the top of the Ryanair market [7.6] after an uncharacteristically brave display in the John Durkan at Punchestown.