Patrick Mullins is all set for his first ever ride at Sandown on Saturday in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase – in the enviable position of getting the leg-up on the highest-rated jumps horse in training in Chacun Pour Soi.
The best two-miler chasers flying over the Railway fences is always one of the highlights of the season and despite the absence of Shishkin and only five runners, this year’s race promises to be another excellent spectacle.
With Paul Townend still on the sidelines, Willie Mullins gave his son and assistant trainer the possibility of good news on Wednesday evening, before confirming on Thursday morning. And the leading amateur could not believe his luck.
He is no stranger to success at the highest level in the saddle, partnering Sharjah to a handful of Grade Ones over hurdles among countless other big-race successes, and he can count on the experience of partnering Douvan, another top-class two-miler, to victory.
“I’ve never ridden at Sandown but I’ve always wanted to, this will be the ultimate, I imagine,” said Mullins.
“I can’t wait, I’m very excited. The Tingle Creek is one of the classic National Hunt races, so to be riding a horse like Chacun Pour Soi in it is every jockey’s dream.
“I sat on him on Tuesday for the first time at the Curragh and he is like driving a Rolls-Royce.
“I won a Grade One on Douvan at Leopardstown. He is tall and narrow, whereas Chacun is wider – but both of them have very high cruising speeds and both are quality animals.
“It’s only a small field, but you’ve got Nube Negra who was second in the Champion Chase and Greaneteen who won at Sandown at the end of the season – it’s a very exciting race.”
Mullins senior nominated the race last week as the likely destination for Chacun Por Soi, but until declarations nothing was certain with the Hilly Way at Cork and the John Durkan at Punchestown also among his options.
“There were three big races this weekend and we had three horses for them in Energumene and Allaho as well, but we always felt Sandown would suit Chacun, we’d send Energumene to Cork and Allaho to Punchestown and that is what we’re sticking with,” he said.
“He’ll need to be at his best, but for that sort of prize-money and this level of a race you expect that – you don’t expect freebies.
“This is a feature race and we like a runner in it – and hopefully a winner. We’ve been lucky enough with Un De Sceaux and hope to win it again. We’d have preferred more rain, but I’m sure the opposition would too, hopefully the watering through the week will make it fine.”
It has been a quieter than usual start to the season for Mullins given the prevailing good ground. But he won the Royal Bond Hurdle last weekend and his big guns take centre stage now.
“This is probably the first weekend we’ve had quite a few runners so we’ll get an idea of where our horses stand. The few horses we have been running have been running well so they are probably advanced,” he said.
“I was very happy last weekend with Statuaire winning and a lot of horses running well. I’m hoping this is the start of our winter season, but I’d still like a lot more rain.”
Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra has the advantage of already having a run this season, a winning return in the Shloer Chase, and was in front of Chacun Pour Soi in the Queen Mother Champion Chase before the tables were turned at Punchestown.
“Going to the Shloer was a bit of a change of plan. Two weeks before the race I saw the forecast was going to go our way so I thought we have got to be in there,” said Skelton.
“He travelled through it (slower ground) at Cheltenham very well and I’ve made no secrets about how fast he is. He travelled and jumped beautifully at Cheltenham the last day. You couldn’t have asked for much more.
“Aside from us and Chacun Pour Soi, Paul (Nicholls) has primed Greaneteen for it so it should be a great race.
“We are looking to get that Grade One by his name and that is what we are trying to do for all of them. It is great to have a runner in a Grade One with a real chance.”
Nicholls’ two runners, Greaneteen and Hitman, both ran in the Haldon Gold Cup, with Hitman coming out on top when second to Eldorado Allen. But he is 17lb worse off at the weights now.
“Greaneteen goes on any ground and loves Sandown having finished second in the Tingle Creek last year before beating Altior in the Celebration Chase,” Nicholls told Betfair.
“In between he wasn’t far behind Nube Negra in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Greaneteen needed the run behind Eldorado Allen in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter recently and is a lot lighter, tighter and sharper now.
“Hitman looked all over the winner as he jumped the last in front at Exeter before he idled a bit on the run in and was collared late on.
“His jumping was phenomenal, but he is still learning about racing and needs to learn to buckle down when he comes off the bridle. It will come with experience and the stronger the race is run the better he will go. I’m hoping that fitting a tongue tie can also help.”
Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness, the mount of Rachael Blackmore, completes the field.