Cheltenham Festival Day 1
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Five horses to note on Tingle Creek weekend

Solo will be aiming to get back on track at Sandown on Saturday.
Solo will be aiming to get back on track at Sandown on Saturday.

Having picked out three winners in the past two editions of this article, Nick Seddon returns to take an early look at the weekend's entries at Sandown and Aintree, and picks out five horses that have caught his eye... 

Vieux Lion Rouge - David Pipe (Aintree 13:30, Saturday)

The first of five races that are run over the iconic Grand National fences each season, Saturday’s Becher Chase regularly serves as an early season pointer for next year’s Jumps showpiece, and the unique nature of the course means that we regularly see specialists coming back for more each year. One Aintree specialist who is set to line up on Saturday is the veteran Vieux Lion Rouge, who has run over these fences eight times, and rather remarkably has completed on each occasion. He’s had plenty of success in this race, too, winning it in 2016 and placing in 2018, and he’s able to take his chance at the weekend off a mark that’s 6 lb lower than the latter of those runs. Admittedly, he isn’t the force of old now rising 12, but he’ll arrive here fit after finishing fifth in a veteran’s chase here in October, and won’t be fazed by testing conditions.

Having proven form at Aintree can count for double in the Becher, and it’s no surprise to see Walk In The Mill towards the top of the market as he bids to seal an historic hat-trick of wins in the race - which would eclipse fellow two-time winners Into The Red (1994 and 1996) and the much-loved Hello Bud (2010 and 2012). He’s up to a pretty hefty looking mark of 149 these days, and with little room for manoeuvre for Robert Walford’s charge, the progressive stayer Kimberlite Candy may be able to turn the tables here. Second in this race 12 months ago when receiving 4 lb, Kimberlite Candy will actually have to concede weight to Walk In The Mill this time around, though he will do so with good reason, having looked a class act when winning the Classic Chase at Warwick in January. Last year’s outing over these fences ought to have taught him plenty, and he can prove himself a classy stayer by taking this for Tom Lacey and J.P. McManus.

Becher Chase
Kimberlite Candy silk

Kimberlite Candy

Becher Chase
Vieux Lion Rouge silk

Vieux Lion Rouge (EW)


Altior - Nicky Henderson (Sandown 14:25, Saturday)

The weekend’s feature race is the Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown, which generally involves horses who will be serious players in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Heading the eight-strong field is the 2018 winner Altior, who’s still on something of a comeback mission after having his illustrious 19-race winning sequence brought to an end by Cyrname in last year’s 1965 Chase at Ascot. The combination of a step up in a trip and a top-class rival ultimately proved to be Altior’s downfall on that occasion, but it’s certainly fair to say that he lost little in defeat, and he roared back to form when winning the Game Spirit Chase over two miles at Newbury in February. His doubters will argue that he really ought to have done just that, of course, and having missed the Queen Mother through injury the following month, there’s perhaps still an aura of doubt about whether he’s quite the same force that sealed back-to-back Champion Chase wins in 2018 and 2019.

Altior generally runs well fresh, and the Nicky Henderson team will undoubtedly be looking to make a statement on Saturday up against the new king of the division, the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue. The pair have previous, with Politologue chasing home Altior on no less than three occasions, and while the hugely admirable grey is capable of top-class form on his day, he’s held as far as the form book is concerned. The improving Greaneteen adds some extra spice to proceedings, but there ought to be some more mileage left in Altior yet as a ten-year-old, and he looks fair value at 4/5 to regain control of a division that he’s dominated for such a long while.

Tingle Creek
Altior silk


Cheltenham Festival Races

Native River - Colin Tizzard (Aintree 14:40, Saturday)

Back at Aintree, the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase has been won by some smart sorts since its inception in 2011 - including the horse which the race is named after - and this year’s eight-strong line-up is almost certainly the strongest yet. It seems fair to start with last year’s winner, the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River, who floored the Grade 1 winner Black Corton when scooting to a 33 length success last season. Injury sadly robbed him of a tilt at the Gold Cup the following March, but he’s a bona fide top-class staying chaser, and will take all the beating considering he won this when fresh 12 months ago.

However, he faces a fascinating rival this time around, in the form of the Gold Cup runner-up Santini. A marmite figure amongst punters, there’s no doubt that Santini is a top-class staying chaser on his day, and he duly showed that when defeating Bristol De Mai in good style in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January. He very nearly reeled in Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Festival showpiece, and a thorough test of stamina here will see him to best effect. The pair are difficult to separate, but it could be worth playing Native River at 9/4 provided the going remains good to soft - bearing in mind that he's more than capable of making all in his races.

Many Clouds Chase
Native River silk

Native River


Solo - Paul Nicholls (Sandown 15:35, Saturday)

Nine months is an awful long time in racing, and having found himself as the ante-post favourite for the Triumph Hurdle on the back of an emphatic British debut success, Solo looks set to make his bow in handicap company at Sandown on Saturday afternoon. That can be attributed to the fact that things haven’t quite gone to plan since that emphatic 13-length success in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in February, and having finished down the field in the Triumph, Solo rather failed to fire on reappearance at Wincanton last month. Horses are entitled to need their reappearance runs of course, though it’s worth noting that the yard was in fine form at the time, and it’s certainly fair to say that Solo has something to prove at the weekend, in this listed handicap over two miles. His current mark of 147 offers little leeway, but he will at least arrive here fit, and in what looks a pretty open affair, he could be worth giving another chance to at around the 7/1 mark.

Sandown 15:35
Solo silk



Min - Willie Mullins (Punchestown 14:40, Sunday)

Sunday’s feature is the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase over two and a half miles, an event which the mercurial Min will be aiming to win for the third year running. He’s spent a large chunk of his career as the bridesmaid to a certain Altior, but Min is a top-class performer in his own right, and having finished as a runner-up at Cheltenham on two occasions in 2016 and 2018, he finally got his win in this year’s Ryanair Chase. This year’s field is a strong one, but Min regularly runs well fresh, and sets a strong standard.

Standing in his way are the graduating novices Allaho and Battleoverdoyen, who were third and fourth behind Champ respectively in a breathless renewal of the RSA Chase. Both are open to more improvement this term, though the trip could prove to be on the sharp side, while the Marsh Novices’ Chase winner Samcro will arrive here fit after a reappearance run at Down Royal in October. Chris’s Dream and Melon are two regulars at this level who add more spice to the occasion, while it will be fascinating to see how Chacun Pour Soi fares after 309 days off the track.He was touted as a potential heir to the Champion Chase throne when tearing through the ranks as a novice in 2018/19, though injury has limited him to just two starts since. His most recent outing came when accounting for Min in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown in February, and although the step up to two and a half miles would be something of an unknown, he’d be one to note if taking his chance.

John Durkan Memorial Chase
Min silk


Cheltenham Festival Tips
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