Alex Hammond looks ahead to the weekend's stellar action with her views on the Tingle Creek and the Becher Chase.
So, it’s been a couple of weeks since we last talked and there have been one or two changes at my end.
This Wednesday saw the launch of Sky Sports Racing and I’m proud to say I’m going to be a part of what is sure to be a magnificent venture. When I was first approached to be lead presenter on the channel I had mixed emotions.
Having spent around 15 years at Sky Sports News the decision to leave wasn’t a straightforward one despite my passion for horse racing, but I was also enormously flattered to be asked.
However, my first love proved too much of a draw and I’m delighted to be making the change. The team both in front of and behind the cameras are incredibly talented and I’m excited to be working with them all; some are old colleagues from The Racing Channel days, remember them?
Luke Harvey and Jason Weaver are talented broadcasters and I've had the pleasure of working with racing's own Ant and Dec (or is it now Holly and Dec?) on the Get In Show on many occasions, it will be great fun to work with the pair of them more often.
There are some exciting new additions to racing broadcasting too, namely former jockey Freddy Tylicki and Josh Apiafi and they will both bring their own unique insight and considerable knowledge to your screens, as will new full-time analyst Jamie Lynch.
Whilst I'll miss my old colleagues in Sky Sports News, I won't miss the 1.30am alarm calls and I can’t wait for January 1 2019 and to get started. I look forward to welcoming in the New Year with you all then.
Let’s chat about the action on the track now and the Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown on Saturday sees the return of superstar Altior.
Nicky Henderson’s star chaser has his first run since winning the Celebration Chase at this venue back in April and is bidding for a 16th career win from 18 starts; quite some record.
The most recent going report (at the time of writing) was good to soft, soft in places and with 8-10mm of rain forecast on Friday the ground is likely to ride soft.
Altior has proved he can handle soft/dead ground when winning the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival back in March, but there’s no doubt he would prefer better underfoot conditions.
That said, this should be straightforward for him as he’s rated half a stone or more than anything else in the line-up.
Un De Sceaux is the horse closest to him on official ratings and he has won this race before; two years ago when he got the better of Sire De Grugy. The rain that is falling will be music to Willie Mullins’ ears.
Sceau Royal is making up into a very smart chaser with Alan King’s six-year-old getting his season off to a winning start in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month.
Saint Calvados is the other runner in this four-horse field to have had the benefit of a run when he won a grade 3 chase at Naas in impressive style.
He will also appreciate the rain softened ground. There may only be four runners in the Sandown showpiece, but they are a talented quartet and will make sure ALTIOR has a proper test on his seasonal reappearance. Despite that, I expect Sky Bet’s odds-on favourite to pick up where he left off and sprinkle a bit of stardust on this weekend’s fixtures.
At Aintree the Becher Chase is the headline act and needless to say this doesn’t look anywhere near as straightforward as the Sandown Grade One.
Last year’s winner Blaklion is Sky Bet’s 9/2 favourite, but I’m hoping that Bryony Frost gets a first win over the imposing Grand National fences on the Paul Nicholls trained PRESENT MAN.
At 8/1 with Sky Bet, he appeals more than the favourite and comes here in top form having won the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton for the second successive year on his most recent outing a month ago.
I’m concerned about soft ground at Aintree, but he looks like the type to excel over the big fences, so I hope the underfoot conditions aren’t too taxing.
If the ground does go particularly soft, then Ultragold will be one I’m keen to have on side too.
Colin Tizzard’s 10-year-old is already a dual winner over these fences when landing the Topham in 2017 and 2018 and he loves soft ground.
He is a natural over the National fences, which bring out the best in him and he made a satisfactory seasonal reappearance over hurdles at Cheltenham back in October, which should have knocked any rustiness off him.
He’s unproven over this 3m2f trip, but I’m happy to take a punt that he stays. He’s a 9/1 shot with Sky Bet.