Saturday’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase was, at times, a nervous watch. The normally exuberant front runner Ar Mad’s jumping went to pieces after a juddering error at the eighth, while eventual winner Un de Sceaux (down 1 lb to 171) fluffed his lines at the last two. Willie Mullins’ first British runner this season returned victorious after being forced to battle hard against a race-fit, top-form Sire de Grugy (unchanged on 165) and knuckling down really well. His campaign will presumably depend on where Douvan goes, and he has the option of going back up in trip, but he will remain a leading contender for top honours whatever targets are chosen. Connections have suggested that he could defend his crown in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot next month. God’s Own (down 2 lb to 165) made his own mistake early on but ran creditably in a race run ideally for him, finishing third, ahead of Ar Mad who rallied well after being headed and whose rating increases 4 lb to 161+. Sir Valentino (now 159?) seemed to excel himself taking a big step up in grade, though he was ridden to pick up the pieces late on and did so without threatening.
The jumping was marginally better in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase an hour earlier on the card, though Supreme Novices’ winner Altior (from 152P to 158p) took off far too early at the second, and was also poor at the fourth. However, his jumping improved as the race wore on and he sealed victory over Charbel with a soaring leap at the last. Bookmakers (predictably) reacted by cutting Altior for the Arkle and it’s not hard to see why, with Supreme Novices’ fifth Charbel providing a much sterner test than sole rival Black Corton had on Altior’s chasing debut. The Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton on December 27 is the next port of call. Charbel (up 3 lb to 150p) travelled well but was one-paced in comparison to the winner. He’s unlikely to run into many of that quality in novice chases, is open to further improvement and is well up to winning again; he looks a prime contender for a race like the Grand Annual, a race in which novices excel. Max Ward and Marracudja both found it all a bit too much, though the former travelled well for longer than his 20/1 starting price may have suggested was likely.
The best jumping performance came from Rocky Creek (up 8 lb to 149§) who belied his age but confirmed his class with a (nearly) all-the-way win in the London National. Paul Nicholls’ charge showed a rarely-seen resolution to battle back once headed and then see off the late challenge of Doing Fine (up 1 lb to 131). The winner will reportedly return to Sandown for a veterans’ race later this month.
Over at Aintree, three races took place which could have a bearing on the Grand National in April. The Becher Chase was won by National seventh Vieux Lion Rouge (unchanged on 147), who capitalised on a leg-weary Highland Lodge (up 5 lb to 140§) in the dying strides. Returning from a 231-day absence, the runner-up would have been a fairytale comeback winner for jockey Henry Brooke, just his eighth ride back after returning from a serious fall which led to an induced coma, collapsed lung, nine fractured ribs and a chipped shoulder. National runner-up The Last Samuri (up 2 lb to 161) was third – fitter for his reappearance fifth in a Down Royal Grade 1 – and will now head to the Grimthorpe at Doncaster, a race he won last season, while Ucello Conti ran up to his best in fourth (now 149). One For Arthur (fifth, up 5 lb to 138) caught the eye under a patient ride.
Grand Sefton Chase winner As de Mee (up 3 lb to 145) may be more of a Topham than National type but he remains one to keep on the right side of, comfortably accounting for Seefood (down 3 lb to 137) and Henryville (down 2 lb to 144) who easily fared best of his 16 rivals. However, the biggest National pointer arguably came from Many Clouds (up 1 lb to 165) who won the preceding listed race on the card. Second when attempting to give 5 lb to Don Poli 12 months previously, Many Clouds put in an exhibition round of jumping to go one place better on Saturday. He has had a wind op since finishing a disappointing sixteenth in the most recent renewal of the National, and is likely to be campaigned sparingly between now and a repeat bid in April, but is well worth a try at another Grade 1; the Lexus Chase in Ireland over Christmas looks a good option. Runner-up Le Mercurey (up 4 lb to 155) ran at least as well as he ever has, though possibly was only second due to the heavy final fence-fall of favourite Minella Rocco (now 160+). It's still possible that there's better to come from Minella Rocco (has Cheltenham Gold Cup entry), though maybe a nasty experience like this will knock him back.