Kevin Blake is expecting a riveting contest for the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday, a race that will go a long way to shaping the two-mile Chase division...
"Un De Sceaux's record over two miles on ground with soft in the description reads as an incredible 15 wins from 16 starts."
Last week, this column discussed the lack of depth in the two-mile hurdle division and the potential impact that the performance of Buveur D'Air in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle could have on it.
As it transpired, not only was Buveur D'Air beaten, he picked up a nasty injury that seems likely to see him miss the rest of the season. This has served to open the division right up, raising the possibility of novice chasers reverting to hurdles and novice hurdlers being thrown into open company to fill the void.
Betfair Tingle Creek has more than one reason for Henderson to watch closely
This week, we face a not dissimilar scenario in the two-mile chase division. Granted, things are not nearly as dire amongst the two-mile chasers as they are amongst the two-mile hurdlers, but it is still one that is struggling for a defined shape with so much uncertainty surrounding the direction which Altior will be pointed in over the coming months.
Indeed, Nicky Henderson is likely to be watching this weekend's action as closely as anyone, as he has publicly stated that events in the Betfair Tingle Creek will guide his decision on whether to return Altior to two miles.
So, what is Nicky likely to be looking for in the Betfair Tingle Creek? His focus is most likely to be on the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil. The six-year-old looks the most exciting up-and-comer in the division on the British side of the water. He enjoyed a fine novice chasing campaign primarily over two-and-a-half miles last season, trading blows and getting the best of a three-race rivalry with Lostintranslation prior to being beaten by Chacun Pour Soi at the Punchestown Festival back over two miles.
Defi Du Seuil made a promising return to action over the minimum trip at Cheltenham when seeing off Politologue with a fine turn of foot in what was a steadily-run race. The fast finish of that race is worth noting, as when one looks at Defi Du Seuil's form over fences as a whole, the majority of his best performances have come in races that were steadily-run with fast finishes.
That's all well and good, but the presence of one horse in particular in the Betfair Tingle Creek on Saturday makes such a scenario seem unlikely. Un De Sceaux.
Defi to receive thorough examination
Un De Sceaux is without question one of the most exciting and admirable National Hunt horses of recent years. His bold-jumping, front-running style isn't quite as gung-ho as it once was, but he has produced breathtakingly aggressive and top-class performances again and again since 2013. Horses with his style don't tend to stay at the top for long, as they are so hard on themselves that they burn themselves out physically and/or mentally, but Un De Sceaux keeps coming back for more.
As amazing as Un De Sceaux's career has been to watch, his CV might be even deeper had his connections kept him at two miles rather than exploring longer trips. His record over two miles on ground with soft in the description reads as an incredible 15 wins from 16 starts, with the only defeat amongst them being dished out by Altior in this race last year.
Only time will tell how much ability Un De Sceaux retains as he approaches his 12th birthday, but one thing that can usually be expected with him is that he will make the race a test of stamina and jumping from the front. His presence will make this a thorough examination of Defi De Seuil's credentials over the minimum trip.
Should he pass the test, he is sure to be elevated to the top end of the market for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Henderson will have much to think about with regard to Altior.
Don't be surprised to see Janika right in the mix
However, while much of the focus will inevitably be on Defi Du Seuil and Un De Sceaux on Saturday, Henderson might possibly have a surprise package in store for them both in Janika.
The six-year-old spent much of last season shaping as though he'd be suited by a drop to the minimum trip and he impressed when getting his chance over a shorter trip in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last month. While he isn't overly big, he is a fluent jumper of a fence and the brisk gallop likely to be set by Un De Sceaux will play to his strengths in a big way. Don't be surprised if he gets right in the mix.
All told, the Betfair Tingle Creek promises to be a riveting contest that will very much inform the two-mile chase picture. With the Hilly Way Chase looking likely to bring together a couple of other Champion Chase hopefuls at Cork on Sunday, it is a picture that promises to be much clearer by Sunday evening.