There is much to look forward to on the racecourses of Britain and Ireland this coming weekend, but I'd rather take the opportunity to look back at the performance of Un De Sceaux in the Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown on Saturday.
Defi Du Seuil took the spoils and was a worthy winner, but the performance of Un De Sceaux in finishing a valiant neck second on his seasonal reappearance attracted just as much if not more praise. Rightly so too, as Un De Sceaux truly is a phenomenon.
The 11-year-old was expected to have burned himself out long ago. His approach to going at life 100% all of the time isn't conducive to a long-lasting career. Horses like him shouldn't have the consistency and longevity that he has shown. He really shouldn't.
To have returned from a summer break just weeks from his 12th birthday and run close to his best is remarkable. It is even more praiseworthy considering Timeform called the ground good-to-soft, which is a long way from ideal for Un De Sceaux, and that Willie Mullins has been of view that his horses have been in need of their first run of the season.
What's next for Willie Mullins' remarkable horse?
Now that Un De Sceaux has returned with the same unending enthusiasm that he had when we last saw him in the spring, thoughts turn to what will be next for him. I have to admit, I couldn't help but feel deflated when hearing Willie Mullins opining after the race on Saturday that: "Maybe we can go out in trip quite a bit further and maybe look at other options."
We almost certainly know all that there is to know about Un De Sceaux as a racehorse. There is surely no doubt that any objective assessment of his form concludes that around two miles with soft in the ground are his best conditions? His record in such circumstances is phenomenal, currently standing at 15 wins from 17 completed starts. If one was to refine that down to starts around two miles on ground that Timeform called soft or heavy, it reads 12 wins from 13 completed starts.
There is also little doubt in my mind that his form shows that he is more vulnerable over longer trips. Of course, he did win the Ryanair Chase in 2017, but only by one-and-a-half lengths from the inferior Sub Lieutenant. Two defeats in that race since then have confirmed that impression from 2017 that he isn't at his best over that course-and-distance.
The reason Un De Sceaux was stepped up in trip in the first place always seemed to be because Mullins had other two milers in his yard such as Douvan and Min and wanted to spread out his ammunition. It is also the case now that Mullins has other younger two-mile chasers in his care such as Chacun Pour Soi and Cilaos Emery to consider. However, that shouldn't mean that Un De Sceaux should be upped in trip again to get out of their way.
Sandown effort shows he's still a serious challenger
Un De Sceaux's days of being the one to beat in any division may be gone, but based on his tremendous effort at Sandown on Saturday on ground that wasn't nearly as soft as he would like, he still represents a serious challenger to any of the young guns looking to take the top spot in the two-mile chase division.
If they can't beat him, they are unlikely to prove to be the best around and he is likely to test any of them in a big way. So rather than upping him in trip again, it would be wonderful to see Un De Sceaux campaigned in his optimal conditions around two miles and letting him test the next generation.
While on the subject, it is also worth noting since Un De Sceaux commenced his first season in open chase company in December 2015, only six of his 19 starts since then have been in Ireland. Considering Un De Sceaux has been one of the most popular horses in training in Ireland for many years, it is a real pity that the Irish racing public haven't had more chances to see him in action.
Conveniently, both of these matters can be addressed simply and easily going forward if his connections so wish. Soft ground permitting, Un De Sceaux could potentially be allowed to take his chance in the Paddy's Rewards Club "Loyalty's Dead, Live For Rewards" Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting, followed by the Dublin Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival, the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and close out his season in the BoyleSports Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival.
It is a campaign that writes itself for a top-class two-mile chaser based in Ireland, yet Un De Sceaux has never been allowed to gallop through it. We would never dare call it a retirement tour, as Un De Sceaux has defied so much convention at this stage that it wouldn't shock anyone if he's still tearing around racecourses at the age of 15. However, a campaign such as this would not keep him at his best trip all season, it would also allow the Irish racing public more opportunities to show their appreciation for this giant of the turf. That is an opportunity that many would be eager to take.