TC's Tingle Creek antepost take
Greaneteen the most solid betting option
But Shishkin will be formidable
Gentleman De Mee lurks with intent
Immediately after the Haldon Gold Cup on November 4th, I thought this Saturday's Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown was Greaneteen's to lose, and I was very surprised that he was as big as 7/2.
I was firmly in the camp of the layers who went as short as 2/1, with the Betfair Sportsbook at the upper end with their 3/1 quote.
Why? Well, I couldn't see many that were likely to turn up on the day to trouble him.
Shishkin wasn't going to rock up, straight into a Grade 1 after his problems, was he? Edwardstone was probably going to get chinned in his warm-up race, and fall by the wayside. And there wasn't a cat in hell's chance that Energumene would come over.
Stablemate Gentleman De Mee didn't unduly scare me even if he was an able enough substitute (he hadn't run at Naas at this stage), with last year's odds-on disappointment in the race, Chacun Pour Soi, a guaranteed no-show as he was going up in trip this term.
Then there were but shadows and dust in the betting, outside of the above. Shadows and dust, Maximus.
The only doubt in my mind was that Greaneteen's win at Exeter was too good, the type of huge effort from which top-class horses can sometimes recoil. The dreaded bounce factor, if you will, and Greaneteen does admittedly have a slightly patchy profile.
Shishkin is formidable opponent for Greaneteen
So what has changed since?
Well, Greaneteen's price for one - he has traded as low as 2.767/4 on the Betfair Exchange - though on Sunday he lost the tag of favouritism after relatively bullish noises from Nicky Henderson that morning that Shishkin did indeed look like strutting his stuff in Esher.
By Sunday afternoon, on the Sportsbook, when there were still 11 in the race, 11/8 Shishkin played 7/4 Greanteeen, with 11/4 Edwardstone, 6/1 Ferny Hollow and 14s and bigger the rest.
And when the Betfair Exchange's ante-post market was suspended ahead of the five-day entries early on Monday morning (around 9am), the last-price traded on Shishkin (pictured below) was just evens.
While that is not great news for my Greaneteen bet, it is certainly most welcome in the wider sporting picture, because Shishkin, who is seemingly at his best on soft ground or with a bit of dig, is a formidable racehorse.
He is now 10/11 with the Betfair Sportsbook.
Unbeaten in a novice chase campaign that saw him win Grade 1s at Cheltenham and Aintree, he whipped Greaneteen by 10 lengths in the Desert Orchid at Kempton last season (albeit getting 3lb) and then went on to chin the equally mighty Energumene by a length in a thriller in the Clarence House Stakes.
That victory earned him an official rating of 177 (now 176) but of course he is now on a retrieval mission after an inexplicably bad run in the Champion Chase.
Connections blamed the ground in the immediate aftermath as he was pulled up after the eighth of 13 fences there, but I don't think many bought that at the time, and we subsequently found out he had a rare bone disorder that caused him intermittent lameness.
All the reports about him are very positive now (mind you, if they were negative, and if the ground is deemed unsuitable, he won't be running) but the one hope that his rivals have on Saturday, should he line up, is that those problems could resurface under racing conditions.
That sounds a touch mercenary, I admit, but it is the reality.
And it isn't if as if Greaneteen is a no-hoper even if an A1 Shishkin rocks up on the expected good/good to soft ground.
Greaneteen's super Sandown record
Greaneteen's body of work at Sandown is hugely impressive, after all.
He is a three-time Grade 1 winner over course and distance, and those successes include a defeat of Altior in a Celebration Chase and a 5 ½-length defeat of Hitman in this race last season, when an almighty market drifter in the face of a betting onslaught for Chacun Pour Soi (he went off at 12/1, having been a third of the price earlier in the week).
And that Exeter return, when he won the Haldon off a mark of 168 by seven lengths, strongly indicated that he has come back an even better horse. The handicapper thought so and he is now on a lofty perch of 171 (perches are always lofty).
It also showed that he could his make own running if needed, and he is undeniably the most solid betting proposition in the race.
Edwardstone is underpriced
In contrast, Edwardstone remains badly underpriced to me at 11/4.
The Arkle winner danced every dance last season and has a thoroughly likeable profile, also winning the Henry VIII by 16 lengths on this card last term.
But he has ducked two engagements already this term after connections deemed the ground too quick for him at Cheltenham and Ascot (the times suggested it was on the easy side of good on both occasions, for what it is worth) and his form is some way detached from the two betting principals.
The Arkle form could have worked out better and I guess connections will be on weather watch again this week.
The ground on the chase course is currently good, good to soft in places, after 5.5mm of rain on Sunday and the forecast this week looks largely dry at the moment (though some is due on Monday afternoon).
Alan King will be pleased to know that they have already started watering "selectively" on the chase course to maintain good ground. But I would struggle to make a case for him at his current price even on his favoured good to soft ground come Saturday afternoon.
If we get good ground, then we could have an issue on our hands as regards numbers, but we can't influence the weather and Sandown can only water so much, as Cheltenham, Ascot and Newbury have done recently.
I feel for Sandown clerk of the course Andrew Cooper.
Given trainers will be trying to pull him this way and that as regards the level of watering this week (Paul Nicholls in the Blue "minimal" corner, with Nicky Henderson in the "maximum possible" Red, perhaps?) Cooper could well end up looking like Stretch Armstrong (one for the oldies) come Saturday.
Can't see Captain Guinness winning
I have a bit of time for 12/1 chance Captain Guinness, who was a 5 ¾ length third to Greaneteen and Hitman in this race last season.
His campaign rather hit the skids after that run, a Grade 3 win a three-runner race aside, but I liked the way he did it at Navan last time, even if the runner-up, and errant jumper, Riviere D'Etel did nada for the form when last of 4 at Carlisle on Sunday.
But can you see him winning? No, is the honest answer.
Champion Chase runner-up Funambule Sivola, at 25/1, is a similar horse to him form-wise, goes well when fresh and Venetia Williams' horses are hitting their straps now. But he looks a confirmed class below the market leaders, and he has disappointed on his only previous start here (albeit back in 2020 when rated just 119).
Fellow 25s poke Dunvegan is nobody's fool either - he split Chacun Pour Soi and Captain Guinness in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase - and has had a recent spin on the Flat, but similar comments apply to him really. That trio are respected but nowhere near feared, as their prices pretty much underline.
Mullins' Gentleman the troublesome lurker?
I was surprised that Ferny Hollow remained in the race at the previous forfeit stage as Wille Mullins had indicated that he would adopt a softly, softly approach with him this season before taking on the big boys, having missed the end of last term with a suspensory ligament problem.
He wasn't confirmed for the race on Monday morning - along with Third Time Lucki, Sizing Pottsie and First Flow - but stablemate Gentleman De Mee was, and it arguably takes a fair leap of faith to get with him after his return effort at Naas.
Or maybe not.
He raised his game to another level when beating Edwardstone at Aintree - a race in which his freshness (he missed Cheltenham) may have been key against the busier runner-up - but he was laboured on his reappearance and would have finished a distant second to the 147-rated Jeremy's Flame (albeit she was fit and getting 12lb) had he not been effectively brought down at the last there.
Mullins will have done wonders to get him capable of singing a winning tune here after that but this is a 6yo having just his seventh chase start, so it may be unwise to dismiss him too readily.
He was weak in the betting at Naas too, so maybe that was a planned and needed stepping stone to this - indeed Mullins said this race was always his early-season target and he was struggling to get a run into him beforehand - and it was an unseat that day and not a bad fall.
Maybe, he is the troublesome lurker behind Shishkin and Greaneteen after all, at 9/1 (and 13.5 on the Betfair Exchange).
As regards likely tactics in this race, we know Dunvegan and Gentleman De Mee are like to go on, and Greaneteen and Funambule Sivola can do so if needed, so it promises to be a truly-run race.
I don't see a bet in the race as it stands, but I do think Greaneteen is undoubtedly the most solid punt at the Sportsbook's 7/4 (and 2.92 on the Betfair Exchange) - he will adore good ground, and is a guaranteed runner, health-permitting - if you are looking for an early interest.