Harry Whittington believes the Celebration Chase at Sandown is the ideal long-term target for Rouge Vif following his impressive performance in defeat over course and distance in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase.
The six-year-old filled the same spot on his previous two starts at the top level, in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival in March and the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in 2018, when chasing home the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Politologue and Greaneteen in the prestigious two-mile contest on Saturday.
While a return to the Festival for an outing in the Queen Mother Champion Chase remains an option, the Sparsholt handler feels Rouge Vif’s best opportunity to gain a first Grade One success could come back at the Esher track on the final day of the jumps season in April.
He said: “Rouge Vif ran a belter and he showed he can be competitive in the top tier when he gets quicker conditions. I’d like to think he would be winning a race of this kind in the future as he is a better horse on better ground.
“We will probably now wait with him until he gets his conditions. I’d imagine Andrew (Brooks, owner) would like to go for the Champion Chase if the ground was right, but if not we have Aintree or the Celebration Chase at Sandown.
“The Celebration Chase looks an obvious long-term target for him as he is going to be a better horse on that better ground while we know he handles the track and that he jumps the fences well around there. As ever Andrew will make the final decisions.”
Having decided against running Rouge Vif in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, Whittington was happy enough with conditions at Sandown to let him take his chance in the Tingle Creek.
He added: “I walked the course and I felt the conditions were fine for him to run. In the Shloer Chase it was going to be very testing and as it turned out it was a war of attrition.
“I’m not going to use the ground as an excuse at Sandown. Had it have been softer than it was he probably wouldn’t have run, but we got away with it and he didn’t come back tired.”
Whittington will make a decision at the weekend regarding the participation of last season’s Ryanair runner-up Saint Calvados, who is also owned by Brooks, in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The seven-year-old, who is a general 33-1 chance for the Grade One prize, has recently returned to training after spending four days at the Donnington Grove Equine Vets following a bout of sepsis.
Whittington said: “Saint Calvados is good and is ticking over. He is in the King George and he will do a piece of work at the weekend and I will then take a view with Andrew whether to run him in the King George.
“He had four days in the equine hospital and has had an easy week to 10 days, but he is back cantering and seems in good form.”