The Tingle Creek Chase (3.05pm, Sandown, Saturday) is the highlight of the National Hunt season at Sandown Park. The race has been won by many outstanding two mile chasers over the years and this year features a fascinating clash between Sprinter Sacre and Sanctuaire.
Nicky Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre (1/2) was good enough to finish third, beaten 5¼ lengths, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, but has proved a revelation since sent over fences last December. He’s barely been off the bridle in winning all five starts over fences, including the Arkle Challenge Trophy back at Cheltenham last March. He is the highest rated chaser in training, according to Timeform.
He won on soft ground over hurdles and his fast, accurate jumping should stand him in good stead over the three so-called “railway” fences, which come in quick succession at the end of the back straight at Sandown.
Nevertheless, he missed his intended seasonal reappearance in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham three weeks ago because of deteriorating conditions and it’s possible to make a case for taking him on at such a short price. It’s interesting to note that both his career defeats came at beyond two miles on testing tracks, so two miles around Sandown Park on soft going may stretch his stamina, especially if the race is run at an end-to-end gallop.
Of course, he also has an absence of 238 days to overcome and his tendency to take a keen hold during his races may not help his cause.
Paul Nicholls’ Sanctuaire (5/2) has also looked a reformed character since being sent over fences last January. He, too, has won all three starts over the larger obstacles with a minimum of fuss. Although his form doesn’t quite measure up to that displayed by Sprinter Sacre, he is rated just 3lb lower than Nicky Henderson’s charge according to official BHA ratings. He jumped well when winning the Celebration Chase over course and distance, on soft going, last April and his bold, attacking style may expose any stamina limitations in his main market rival.
On the downside, he also has an absence of 224 days to overcome, but Paul Nicholls has stated that Sanctuaire would be “very fit and very fresh” ahead of the Tingle Creek.
Frankly, it’s difficult to make a case for any of the others, who appear to be running for third prize money if Sanctuaire and Sprint Sacre stay on their feet. In terms of official BHA ratings, Paul Nicholls’ Doeslessthanme (28/1) is the closest to the front pair, but even he has 16lb to find with Sanctuaire and 19lb to find with Sprinter Sacre. He’s a decent enough handicap chaser on his day, but looks to be flying a little high here.
The remaining runners, Kumbeshwar (25/1), His Excellency (33/1), Idarah (40/1) and Kinkeel (600/1), all have 19lb and more to find with the principals, according to the BHA, and cannot seriously be considered.
With slight doubts about Sprinter Sacre on his seasonal reappearance, our advice is to back SANCTUAIRE to win at a current best price of 5/2 with Ladbrokes. Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh have already won the Charlie Hall Chase, the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the Betfair Chase this season and Sanctuaire can continue their excellent run of Saturday successes.