At the highest level, Fox Norton’s vulnerability to a slicker and quicker two-miler proved his undoing, as Politologue held on for a thrilling victory in Saturday’s Tingle Creek at Sandown.
The six-year-old grey, trained by Paul Nicholls, jumped beautifully throughout and at the third-last came alongside Ar Mad at the front of affairs, with a couple of lengths back to Fox Norton. He maintained that advantage to the last and though the runner-up gained all the way to the line, he was never able to bridge the gap.
Nicholls was clearly thrilled with the victory, his tenth in the race: “That means an awful lot, we are just short of a Grade One horse and I always believed in this one. It was a good ride from Harry and I'm delighted for everybody. He is starting to look the proper job. I knew when he went to Exeter there would be huge improvement. No one ever believes you when you say they need a run, but he hadn't been back long enough really.”
The trainer added: “I knew they would go quick and his jumping stands him in great stead. Harry said he just cruises there and ends up idling in front. The faster they go, the more he can get a tow into the race. John (Hales, owner) has always wanted him to be a Gold Cup horse. I just thought at Haydock last season and at Cheltenham we were riding him wrong and doing the wrong thing. That's why I said we will go to back to two at Aintree and we were unlucky that day.”
Speaking to Racing UK a little later Nicholls added: “He’s only six and we’ll just go along with him quietly. That’s only his second run out of novice company and he’s won a Tingle Creek and a Haldon Gold Cup, which is what all those good ones I had before had done. His jumping is brilliant and that’s a big asset to him. We’ll possibly go to Ascot at the end of January for the Clarence House, but there’s one target, the Champion Chase, and that’s what we’ll aim at.”
Hales has owned other high-class two-milers including One Man and Azertyuiop, but had never previously captured the Tingle Creek. He said of the victory: “It is a wonderful win. I'm absolutely delighted. He is only a six-year-old. I thought we had a chance. I thought if we win this today, we've beaten a really good horse. It is a pity Douvan didn't come or Altior wasn't fit because I like to compete against the best and we don't duck anybody. But he a beat a very good horse and all credit to him.”
Harry Cobden had given the winner a perfect ride, and said: “He's a lovely horse, the first day I sat on him was at Haydock over two and a half on heavy ground, he took a bit of my heart that day and he's got it all now.”
Tizzard appeared a little stunned at proceedings, but admitted that there were always concerns over the right trip for Fox Norton: “Whether he is a Ryanair horse or a King George horse I don’t know. We’ll think about it. I’m sure from now on he will go up in trip - we hankered on it all last year and it looks more like it every time we talk about it. We got in a bit tight at the last and the Paul Nicholls horse was away.”
It became a day of rare disappointment for the Tizzard team, when the decision to run Finian’s Oscar in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase backfired spectacularly. Outpaced on the flat and woefully ponderous at his fences, the five-year-old is clearly no two-mile chaser. Tailed off throughout the contest, he finished 61 lengths behind the impressive winner Sceau Royal and will not be seen over the minimum trip again. Along with Fox Norton, Tizzard will be stepping him up for the remainder of the campaign. Both could find themselves running over three-miles at Kempton during the Christmas period.
The Alan King-trained winner was foot-perfect throughout and zipped past Brain Power approaching the last fence. Henderson’s fella got in close and stumbled on landing, sending David Mullins to the turf, whilst Sceau Royal scooted clear for an 11-length success. North Hill Valley was the eventual runner-up in a dramatic renewal.
The winner is likely to be aimed at the Arkle, though the large galloping and undulating track may not play to his strengths as Sandown clearly did. He was laser-sharp over the obstacles and clearly that will be of benefit come March, though his ability to battle bravely up the final hill will prove just as crucial.
One horse that did battle bravely in testing conditions was Blaklion at Aintree. Punters latched on to the Twiston-Davies chaser, and he was sent-off a short-priced favourite for the Becher Chase. He proved himself the class act, travelling powerfully throughout before pulling clear for a nine-length success. The Last Samuri ran another cracker over the National fences to finish second. Both are likely to return for the ‘main event’ in April, though their respective handicap marks will make life awfully difficult.