Would the Tingle Creek be a more interesting race if it reverted to a handicap? Our columnist definitely thinks it would.
ALTIOR HAS A PENALTY KICK IN THE TINGLE CREEK
Altior is probably the best National Hunt horse in the world right now and he returns to the fold with his first attempt at the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday. Not that the railway fences et al are new to him as he is unbeaten three times over the course and distance.
On official ratings he has upwards of 7lb in hand of his three rivals and is going to start at prohibitive odds. As much as I am looking forward to this, I used to enjoy the Tingle Creek more when it was a handicap up until 1994 – when the best horses around, like Desert Orchid, were faced with the task of giving weight away to some smart performers.
Dessie performed heroics in this race, both in victory and defeat. In 1987, he failed by three lengths to give 26lb to Long Engagement, who also beat him by two and a half lengths in 1989 when getting two stone off the great grey. In between, Dessie was brilliant when he slammed Jim Thorpe by 12 lengths, giving him 20lb.
If Saturday’s race were an open handicap, here’s how they would line up:
Un De Sceaux 11-3
Sceau Royal 10-8
Saint Calvados 10-7
Now, that IS a horse race! Altior would probably still start favourite but what a prospect this would be and I guarantee the betting turnover would be higher too. These days, the best horses don’t get asked the same questions as they once did and more’s the pity.
APPLE'S JADE HAS TO BE CHAMPION BOUND, SURELY?
Apple's Jade and Buveur D’Air stood head and shoulders above everything else last week.
Buveur was just awesome with the way he outclassed Samcro in the Fighting Fifth and looked as good, if not better, than ever. I had a chat with Nicky Henderson earlier this week and it was telling to hear that he felt that Buveur was developing an infection when scrambling home from Melon in last season's Champion Hurdle.
Buveur lives next door to We Have A Dream at Seven Barrows and the younger horse was ill in the run-up to the Festival and had to miss the gig as a consequence. Nicky is convinced that Buveur wasn’t right with the way he ran and indeed "fell apart" after the race, which is why he missed Aintree.
But by golly, he is back now and is certainly in the right hands to make it a hat-trick next March as, extraordinarily, both his trainer and owner have already achieved the feat with See You Then and Istabraq respectively.
Meanwhile, it was a surprise to hear that connections of the runner-up are sticking to their plan of preparing him for the Champion Hurdle.
Samcro is a very good horse, no question. But a two-mile hurdler he ain’t – either in style or substance. At that distance, he can still travel strongly but he doesn’t have a turn of foot anywhere of the calibre of his Fighting Fifth conqueror. Sure, he could perform well in a Champion, but it is hard to see him winning one.
But after Apple's Jade produced the performance of her life on Sunday in the Morgiana Hurdle, it would seem that the stars are aligning for the Gigginstown/Elliott duo to have a real - and dangerous - contender for hurdling’s most prestigious prize, after all.
Apple's Jade was immense, her 20-length win over Supasundae every bit as stunning as it sounds on paper. I recall her putting up a similar performance in her four-year-old days when she beat Ivanovich Gorbatov by a staggering 41 lengths in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree in 2016 – and that was over two miles and a furlong.
However, she has not tackled the minimum trip again since going down by a nose to Irving in the Fighting Fifth later that year and after the race on Sunday, connections still spoke of the Mares' Hurdle. Let’s hope they change their minds.
She is a much stronger mare now and clearly better than ever. Let’s face it, who would you fancy over two miles, Samcro, or Apples Jade – getting 7lb?
SKY SPORTS RACING
With the press launch of Sky Sports Racing (SSR) this week, I was thinking that the armchair racegoer has never had it so good.
Last week, Racing TV, who take over the Irish programme next month, announced their latest plans. They will certainly have their hands full to cover the extensive output that they have responsibility for. I am surprised that they have not launched a second channel but they sound confident that they can cope.
SSR will have exclusive rights to the French racing scene, which should be fascinating. And of course, they have also signed up Chester, Bangor and Ascot to bolster the domestic ranks.
Meanwhile, I have been asked by many whether SSR is going to cost anything. The simple answer is no – if you have the same Sky package that includes ATR, that is.
The wonderful thing about SSR is that it will be in HD, which is long overdue and so very welcome. Good to hear too that Freddie Tylicki is joining the punditry team, which will feature more of the excellent Jamie Lynch, who is leaving Timeform for a permanent role to sit alongside a team of established and well-known presenters.
It was interesting to see the new channel parading four men who cut their teeth at ATR but are also well known for working for ITV, too. It is well known that there is no love lost between ITV and Sky. You could see a bit of a tug of war developing for their services on certain days.
WELL DONE JASON WEAVER
Continuing on the TV theme, Jason Weaver was voted broadcaster of the year by his peers this week.
Some have pointed out that he is a pundit rather than a presenter but I don’t have a problem with this. He is still a broadcaster - and a very good one at that.
Jason was always promising when he joined ATR a few years ago now. He is great company and his upbeat personality has always made him a pleasure to be around, both in and out of the studio.
Not all former pros make good pundits but Jason really gets the game and his insight is excellent. His confidence has grown visibly since being employed by ITV, too, and his presence adds gravitas to any programme.
GOONERS HAVE THEIR ARSENAL BACK
I have not written about Arsenal (or Derby County!) for a while.
I was lucky enough to go to last Sunday’s vibrant North London derby and can tell you that I have never experienced an atmosphere like it at the Emirates stadium. The place was rocking!
It was a really niggly match – as any local derby should be - but still full of quality and Arsenal are developing into a difficult team to beat. Unai Emery must have burned some calories in the technical area as he never stood still. So different to the laid back approach of Arsene Wenger.
I thought the players were feeling Sunday’s exertions against Manchester United at Old Trafford last night but they managed to get something out of it. I am beginning to think they will make the top four.