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.”
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.”