David Cleary rounds up the best of the week's jumping action, headlined by a top-class renewal of the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown...
"Native River hasn't had many chances faced with that sort of slog - it is worth remembering the Welsh National trip has been extended this year - and he could just put up a really big effort, perhaps something approaching Carvill's Hill or Master Oats territory in the right circumstances."
Top-class chasers promised the best of the weekend's action, but while the clash between the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup one-two Native River and Might Bite at Aintree ended before halfway, the Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown more than lived up to expectations.
Sueil denies Sceaux in Tingle Creek thriller
Eight lined up for the first two-mile Grade 1 of the winter, and with Altior trying his hand over further, the field was pretty evenly matched. The pace was a good one, thanks to Ornua, but plenty were still in contention three out before Un de Sceaux kicked for home, Defi du Seuil the only one able to go with him. Defi du Seuil edged ahead of Un de Sceaux early on the run-in, with a classic Sandown finish ensuing, just a neck in it at the line, with Waiting Patiently making up most of the five lengths he was down at the last to finish a good third.
Defi du Seuil is building a tremendously consistent record and any concerns about him as a two-miler really ought to be quashed by his two efforts this season. He can travel well off a good pace and find, has shown a good turn of foot off a steadier one, while his jumping is solid without being flashy.
Defi du Seuil will presumably have a programme involving the Clarence House in the build-up to the Champion Chase, so may again clash with Un de Sceaux.
Rising 12, Un de Sceaux showed he's lost none of his enthusiasm or ability and Ascot might just give him the chance to turn the tables on Defi du Seuil. In contrast to the winner, Un de Sceaux was having his first run since the spring. He's entered at Leopardstown after Christmas, though his stable's strength in depth in this division means he may well have a campaign around races in Britain.
Waiting Patiently ready to fire again after blank campaign
Waiting Patiently, who had also not run since the spring, ran a fine race over a trip a little on the short side. He had a season to forget in 2018/19, but this run suggested he's as good as he was when an impressive winner of the Betfair Ascot Chase the previous season. He contested the King George last winter, but isn't entered this time round, the two-mile Grade 1 at Leopardstown his one current entry, though presumably the Desert Orchid would be an alternative.
Of the rest, Janika ran respectably, but he seemed to find the transition to Grade 1 company from good handicaps a little beyond him at this trip. He's worth trying in slightly less exacting pattern company. Politologue was disappointing, not much fight in his finish, his trainer Paul Nicholls having a rare blank Saturday. Sceau Royal left the impression the run was needed on his first outing since the spring.
Gritty Top Notch rewarded with Peterborough victory
There was a better outcome for Sceau Royal's owners and retained jockey in the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon the next day, with Top Notch showing once again what a gutsy little battler he is. He looked to be third best after three out, but had fought his way to the front by the next and never looked likely to surrender the lead thereafter.
The race was a bit muddling and not so competitive as seemed likely - Aso ran poorly and Charbel looks to have gone at the game. La Bague Au Roi fared much better than she had in the Charlie Hall, though did a bit too much in front and had insufficient left when the winner took over. The outsider Kauto Reiko took a closing second though may be flattered in picking up the pieces.
The obvious next chase for Top Notch is the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti at Kempton, a race he won when it was a listed contest last season. However, that might also be a good target for the 2018 winner Waiting Patiently, who would be a tough nut to crack on Tingle Creek form.
Native River gains first win since Gold Cup triumph
Native River against Might Bite in the Many Clouds at Aintree ended at a contest when Might Bite unseated Nico de Boinville after a blunder at the fourth. Wearing cheekpieces first time, this was another frustrating effort from Might Bite, a horse whose jumping is usually one of his strengths. He's in the King George and obviously won the race in 2017, though this year's renewal looks significantly stronger and he's without a solid piece of form for rather too long.
Native River, to all intents and purposes left solo, had a punishing time trial, firmly pushed along in the closing stages as the effort took its toll, but this was still quite a taking performance. He isn't in the King George, but is in the Welsh National, a race he won two seasons ago. His BHA mark of 167 looks fair and were he to run there there would be plenty out of the handicap.
Native River hasn't had many chances faced with that sort of slog - it is worth remembering the Welsh National trip has been extended this year - and could just put up a really big effort, perhaps something approaching Carvill's Hill or Master Oats territory in the right circumstances.
Esprit du Large looks smart in landing Henry VIII
Back at Sandown, Esprit du Large came out on top in a slightly substandard running of the Henry VIII Novices' Chase. In contrast to the Tingle Creek, this was run at just a fair pace, the race developing from three out. Esprit du Large won nicely enough but Torpillo disappointed with his jumping, Summerville Boy fell at the water and chasing debutant Grand Sancy lacked the know-how to make a bigger impact. The winner is potentially smart, though whether he is a major Arkle or JLT contender is open to question.
Goshen looks ideal for Finale after Sandown romp
Friday's Grade 2 Winter Novices' Hurdle was another race that proved less informative than it might have done, though the winner Enrilo had clearly been written off too soon after an unfortunate run the time before. Back under Harry Cobden, Enrilo looked much more straightforward and his jumping was a real asset on testing ground. He's a chaser in the longer term and his success caused barely a ripple in the Cheltenham markets.
By contrast, Goshen's demolition job in the introductory juvenile hurdle propelled him to the head of the Triumph Hurdle market. He's now won his last five races, three on the Flat and two over hurdles, all by wide margins. Goshen clearly relishes a slog in the mud and as such the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow ought to be right up his street. Whether he would be quite so effective away from soft/heavy ground remains to be seen.
To end with a couple more novice hurdlers, Sporting John and Fiddlerontheroof, who look good long-term prospects - both could develop into Cheltenham candidates, but perhaps an EBF Final or a run at Aintree might prove more beneficial for a pair of would-be chasers.
Sporting John followed up his debut win at Exeter with an emphatic success under a penalty at the same track; Fiddlerontheroof hacked up in a two-mile novice at Sandown, for horses that haven't run on the Flat. Both have been raced around two miles but they are likely to stay quite a bit further in time. Fiddlerontheroof, in particular, isn't yet the finished article physically and would probably benefit from a relatively light campaign.