Douvan stays at home after all, with Mullins opting to send Un De Sceaux over for the Tingle Creek at Sandown.
“It was an easy enough decision to make,” said the Closutton supremo. “It was probably Un De Sceaux all the time as he’s used to travelling to France and the UK, while Douvan is only a novice going into Grade 1 company against horses who are well used to running in Grade 1s.”
While his Arkle winner heads to Cork on Sunday, Mullins will be hoping that the ground at Sandown is not too lively for Un De Sceaux, who is undoubtedly at his best with plenty of juice underfoot. His best performance of last winter came at Ascot, when easily accounting for Sire De Grugy in the Clarence House Chase. He led from the drop of the flag on that occasion, stretching away from the chasing pack to win by five lengths.
He came off second best to Sprinter Sacre in the spring on quicker ground, though was still very much ‘best of the rest’ behind the now retired champion.
Gary Moore fires two arrows at the target, and has last year’s Tingle Creek winner, Sire De Grugy, seemingly firing on all cylinders. He ran a cracker at Ascot last time, though his victory off top-weight came in a handicap against rather modest opposition. He was certainly impressive, but winning yet another Grade 1 will be much tougher. He does take to Sandown particularly well, having won four chases from five at the track. He’d be making it a record equalling three wins in the prestigious event, though only Moscow Flyer has managed to win the race as a 10-year-old.
Moore also unleashes the six-year-old Ar Mad. He too has a love of the track, having romped to victory in his two previous visits. He looked a potentially top-class novice chaser last winter, before injury curtailed his season. His demolition of Bristol De Mai at this corresponding fixture was quite sensational. If returning in that kind of form, he could take some catching. He and Un De Sceaux rattling along at the front could be a sight to behold. It will be interesting to see if he can draw an error or two from the Mullins contender.
Tom George is also double-handed, with God’s Own probably his best chance of success. He already has a trio of Grade 1 victories to his name, with two of those coming at Punchestown. Right-handed track on decent ground is ideal for the eight-year-old, though Un De Sceaux has had the better of their encounters thus far. He appears to have plenty in his favour, but I fancy he’ll find one or two with a little more zip.
George captured the Haldon Gold Cup with Sir Valentino in November, but this is undoubtedly a different proposition for the seven-year-old. He’s an improving sort that should not be discounted out of hand, and will come here match-fit, whilst some may need the run. No horse has won the Haldon and followed up here since Flagship Uberalles in 1999.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has a fabulous record in the race, but a Vibrato Valtat victory would be a huge shock. The horse is simply not good enough in this company, and has now become very difficult to place. He was tried at 2m5f in the Stella Artois at Ascot last time, but failed to land a blow. He’d need plenty of these to have an off day, to have any chance.
The markets have it about right, as they often do in the Tingle Creek. Favourites have a strong record, and the Champion Chase is regularly a pointer to this. Un De Sceaux looks the likely winner, with the youngster Ar Mad the main danger. Moore’s six-year-old has been off since February, and that tips the balance towards the favourite. Chances are that they will go head to head from the off, inevitable placing emphasis on the pairs jumping. It’s sure to be a thrilling spectacle.