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Rouge Vif needs sound surface at Sandown

Harry Whittington is keeping an eye on the Sandown weather as he prepares Rouge Vif to take on Altior in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Altior has been the dominant force in the two-mile division for the last few seasons, save last term when an attempt to step up in trip left its mark on the 10-year-old as he was limited to just two starts.

In contrast, Rouge Vif was twice a winner in the 2019/20 campaign and finished third in the Arkle, boosting his mark to 156 – a perch from which he triumphed with ease on his return at Cheltenham in October.

A subsequent run in last month’s Shloer Chase back at Prestbury Park was scuppered by testing ground, and Whittington believes a sound surface at the Esher venue is crucial to Rouge Vif’s chances.

He said: “Rouge Vif is in great form and firmly on course for the Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday.

“We would obviously rather have our conditions, given we are taking on the likes of Altior, so better ground will be important to him. I think if the ground remains as it is, we would be hopeful of a good run.

“If Sandown got plenty of rain then that would put his participation in doubt, but at the moment he is a definite runner if the weather holds – and it is something we are really looking forward to.

“These are the races you dream about running in. To have a horse capable of running in a big Grade One like the Tingle Creek against a horse of Altior’s calibre is hugely exciting. Hopefully, we don’t get too much rain, and it should be a very exciting race.”

Simply The Betts has the option of running at Huntingdon for Whittington
Simply The Betts has the option of running at Huntingdon for Whittington (Tim Goode/PA)

On what could be a big weekend for Whittington and owners Kate and Andrew Brooks, Simply The Betts is also entered in Sunday’s Fitzdares Club Loves The Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.

The seven-year-old, who was a Festival winner back in March, finished sixth on his return in the Paddy Power Gold Cup back at Cheltenham last month – and he could yet return to that venue in preference to Sunday’s Grade Two contest.

Whittington added: “He’s in great form and has come out of his last race fine. He’s also in the Caspian Caviar at Cheltenham on December 12, and no decision about where he runs will be made until later in the week. Wherever he runs, I think he’ll run very well.”

Great demand for Tingle Creek Chase day tickets

Jockey Club Racecourses report a “fantastic” response after tickets for next week’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase day went on sale.

Spectators are set to return to racecourses on Wednesday for the first time since March – barring two pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in September – after the Government announced limited crowds would be permitted under the post-lockdown restrictions.

Outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas are allowed to admit spectators after the end of the national lockdown in England on December 2, with up to 4,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity limits – whichever is lowest – in place in Tier 1, dropping to 2,000, or 50 per cent capacity, in Tier 2. No crowds are permitted in Tier 3 areas.

Ludlow, Lingfield, Haydock and Kempton all fall under Tier 2 restrictions and get the ball rolling on Wednesday, with the JCR-run Sandown also in the same level of measures.

Next Saturday’s card is set to feature the return of Altior in the Grade One feature and Phil White, Jockey Club Racecourses London director, is delighted with the reaction of potential racegoers, with general admission tickets having sold out.

He said: “The response to us going on sale for Betfair Tingle Creek Day has been fantastic.

“Racing fans have been incredibly patient these last few months and we’re looking forward to having them with us next weekend.”

The Racecourse Association has set out operating protocols for all tracks to follow, with attendees required to purchase tickets in advance and supply full contact details for all in their party.

Racegoers are also asked to wear a face covering at all times, unless eating or drinking, travel by private transport where possible, ensure social distancing from fellow racegoers outside of their household bubble and abide by a code of conduct.