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Ground conditions mean Altior misses Tingle Creek reappearance

Nicky Henderson has elected not to run Altior in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday due to ground conditions.

The son of High Chaparral beat the popular Un De Sceaux in the Grade One contest two years ago, before going on to successfully defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and win a third Celebration Chase at Sandown to cap another flawless campaign.

Last season was not so smooth, however, with Altior suffering a first defeat in 20 starts over jumps at the hands of Cyrname in an attritional affair at Ascot – which put paid to ambitions of a step up to three miles for the King George VI Chase.

Henderson’s superstar chaser got back on the winning trail at Newbury in February – and while a late setback ruled out a Champion Chase hat-trick bid, the 10-year-old had since demonstrated to his trainer that he was back firing on all cylinders for his eagerly-awaited reappearance.

Nicky Henderson with Altior
Nicky Henderson with Altior (Bradley Collyer/PA)

But after taking stock of the ground following racing at the Esher circuit on Friday, Henderson told the PA news agency: “It is with a heavy heart we have decided that Altior is not going to run. We simply don’t want to bottom him again given what happened last year.

“Everyone has seen how testing the ground was today and we’re not going to ask him to do it again.

“We’re very sorry to everyone who was looking forward to seeing him and it was a very tough decision for the Pughs, but we’ve got to do the best thing by the horse.

“It’s tough, and if there was any further rain forecast we may have left the decision until the morning, but it will be very holding ground and very hard work.

“We’ve been talking all night, we started off at 50-50 but we’re not even 90-10 now – he won’t run.

“Sadly, the horse could not be in better form so we’ll look at either Kempton or Ascot for him next.”

The race will still see Paul Nicholls fire a twin assault in a bid to add to his record haul of 10 Tingle Creek successes – with 2017 winner Politologue, who landed the Champion Chase when last seen, joined by recent Haldon Gold Cup hero Greaneteen.

Politologue carries the colours of John Hales, who said before news of Altior’s absence: “I’m sure he’ll give his best, as he always does.

“It’s a good field. Politologue is in good condition, and I think you’ll find that he’s been well prepared for the race – there’ll be no excuses if we don’t win.

“He obviously won the race a few years ago, and bled in the race last year, but Paul devised a new way of training him after that – which paid off at the Festival.”

Greaneteen at Ditcheat
Greaneteen at Ditcheat (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Nicholls told Betfair: “Greaneteen won the Haldon Gold Cup in determined style at Exeter, staying on stoutly. Although he has earned a crack at this Grade One and has come on bundles since Exeter, he does need to improve – because Politologue is rated 10lb higher than him.

“Greaneteen is what I call a strong-staying two miler, which is what you want for a race like this, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him right in the mix.

“We know Politologue is best fresh – he looks stunning, has had an away day and couldn’t be in better shape.

“The more it rains at Sandown, the more it will suit him.”

Harry Whittington is still intending to step Rouge Vif up in class, after he impressed in handicap company at Cheltenham in October, but will check on ground conditions before confirming his participation.

He said: “I’m just hoping there’s some good to soft in the going description – if there’s more rain and it turns soft, then I think we’ll probably be a non-runner.

“He’s in great form, and his preparation has gone very well. He was ready to run in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month, and we pulled him out of that because of the soft ground.

“If we do run, hopefully he’ll run a big race. It’s very tough, but he’s earned his right to have a go – and hopefully he can show he can mix it with the big boys.”

Castlegrace Paddy impressed in the Fortria Chase
Castlegrace Paddy impressed in the Fortria Chase (PA)

The field is completed by Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm and Pat Fahy’s Irish challenger Castlegrace Paddy, who won the Fortria Chase at Navan last month.

Fahy said: “Everything has gone well since Navan. I couldn’t be happier with the horse – I’ve never seen him as well in himself.

“He’s an outsider, which is great – that’s the way I always triumph. As long as the horse is well, that’s all you need to worry about.

“It’s going to be an enjoyable day for us. He’s entitled to go, and we’re looking forward to it.”

‘Electric’ Altior has Henderson purring for Tingle Creek

Nicky Henderson is confident Altior’s brilliant ability remains fully intact as he prepares for his return to action in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase.

The son of High Chaparral beat the popular Un De Sceaux in Saturday’s Grade One contest two years ago, before going on to successfully defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and win a third Celebration Chase at Sandown to cap another flawless campaign.

Last season was not so smooth, however, with Altior suffering a first defeat in 20 starts over jumps at the hands of Cyrname in an attritional affair at Ascot – which put paid to ambitions of a step up to three miles for the King George VI Chase.

Henderson’s superstar chaser got back on the winning trail at Newbury in February – and while a late setback ruled out a Champion Chase hat-trick bid, the 10-year-old has since demonstrated to his trainer that he is back firing on all cylinders for his reappearance.

“He schooled last week and he was electric,” said Henderson.

“If you put a fence in front of him he’s away, so we’re hopeful he’s back.

“He was in very good form the week before Cheltenham, and he got a splint, so there was no way he’d get to Cheltenham. We were hoping he’d come back for something later in the season, which obviously never happened.

“I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be as good as ever this season.”

While Altior was beaten on his only start beyond an extended two miles, Henderson has not completely dismissed the idea of testing Altior’s stamina again over longer distances at some stage – but a third Champion Chase is top of his wish-list.

Nicky Henderson with Altior
Nicky Henderson with Altior (Bradley Collyer/PA)

He added on a call hosted by Great British Racing: “I wouldn’t rule out trying him over two and a half miles again.

“Where we went wrong last year was two-five, heavy ground and first time out (at Ascot) – he wasn’t beaten far, but he was very, very tired.

“Two and a half miles at Aintree might be an option, should Cheltenham go the right way. We haven’t done it before, but it certainly wouldn’t worry me.

“He’s the best two miler in recent years – the best since Sprinter Sacre, who got his crown back.

“Altior didn’t lose his crown because he was sub-par. In March we were very happy with where we were and looking forward to the Champion Chase – it was just unfortunate timing to pick up a splint.

“He’ll be 11 come the Festival, and we’ll be looking to win there for a fifth time, but he is capable.”

Paul Nicholls fires a twin assault in a bid to add to his record haul of 10 Tingle Creek successes – with 2017 winner Politologue, who landed the Champion Chase when last seen, joined by recent Haldon Gold Cup hero Greaneteen.

Politologue carries the colours of John Hales, who said: “I’m sure he’ll give his best, as he always does.

“It’s a good field. Politologue is in good condition, and I think you’ll find that he’s been well prepared for the race – there’ll be no excuses if we don’t win.

“He obviously won the race a few years ago, and bled in the race last year, but Paul devised a new way of training him after that – which paid off at the Festival.”

Greaneteen at Ditcheat
Greaneteen at Ditcheat (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Nicholls told Betfair: “Greaneteen won the Haldon Gold Cup in determined style at Exeter, staying on stoutly. Although he has earned a crack at this Grade One and has come on bundles since Exeter, he does need to improve – because Politologue is rated 10lb higher than him.

“Greaneteen is what I call a strong-staying two miler, which is what you want for a race like this, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him right in the mix.

“We know Politologue is best fresh – he looks stunning, has had an away day and couldn’t be in better shape.

“The more it rains at Sandown, the more it will suit him.”

Harry Whittington is still intending to step Rouge Vif up in class, after he impressed in handicap company at Cheltenham in October, but will check on ground conditions before confirming his participation.

He said: “I’m just hoping there’s some good to soft in the going description – if there’s more rain and it turns soft, then I think we’ll probably be a non-runner.

“He’s in great form, and his preparation has gone very well. He was ready to run in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month, and we pulled him out of that because of the soft ground.

“If we do run, hopefully he’ll run a big race. It’s very tough, but he’s earned his right to have a go – and hopefully he can show he can mix it with the big boys.”

Castlegrace Paddy impressed in the Fortria Chase
Castlegrace Paddy impressed in the Fortria Chase (PA)

A six-strong field is completed by Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm and Pat Fahy’s Irish challenger Castlegrace Paddy, who won the Fortria Chase at Navan last month.

Fahy said: “Everything has gone well since Navan. I couldn’t be happier with the horse – I’ve never seen him as well in himself.

“He’s an outsider, which is great – that’s the way I always triumph. As long as the horse is well, that’s all you need to worry about.

“It’s going to be an enjoyable day for us. He’s entitled to go, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Altior headlines six contenders for Tingle Creek glory

Altior is set to face five rivals in his bid for a second victory in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday.

It is two years since Nicky Henderson’s superstar chaser accounted for Un De Sceaux by four lengths in the Sandown showpiece.

The 10-year-old did not defend his crown 12 months ago after connections opted to tackle longer distances with a view to a possible tilt at the King George VI Chase, but that plan was shelved after Altior suffered his first defeat over jumps at the hands of Cyrname at Ascot.

He resumed winning ways at Newbury in February before a late setback ruled him out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He will be a hot favourite to make a successful reappearance this weekend.

Paul Nicholls fires a twin assault as he looks to add to his record haul of 10 Tingle Creek successes. The Ditcheat handler saddles 2017 winner Politologue, who landed the Champion Chase when last seen, as well as recent Haldon Gold Cup hero Greaneteen.

Harry Whittington steps Rouge Vif up in class after impressing in handicap company at Cheltenham in October, while Olly Murphy will be hoping for an improved performance from Brewin’upastorm after finishing last of six on his seasonal debut at Carlisle.

The sextet is completed by Pat Fahy’s Irish challenger Castlegrace Paddy, who won the Fortria Chase at Navan last month.

Skelton all set for Tingle Creek on Politologue

Harry Skelton hopes Politologue can pick up where he left off by making a triumphant return to action against Altior in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase – for which eight have stood their ground.

Having steered the Paul Nicholls-trained grey to glory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March, Skelton will bid to secure a second Grade One victory aboard him at Sandown on Saturday.

Skelton has not sat on Politologue in public since their Festival triumph, but he has ridden him on Nicholls’ gallops at Ditcheat in preparation for his return.

Skelton said: “I’ve had a sit on him, and he feels in great form.

“Paul is very happy with him, and that is the main thing. If he is happy then I’m happy.

“He does feel very well, and we are looking forward to it.”

John Hales will be seeking a second Betfair Tingle Creek success with Politologue (Simon Cooper/PA Images)
Owner John Hales will be seeking a second Betfair Tingle Creek success with Politologue (Simon Cooper/PA Images)

Although the John Hales-owned nine-year-old failed to feature in the race 12 months ago, having previously landed the 2017 renewal, Skelton is far from concerned – given he has already won first time out on three occasions.

He added: “He blew out there a little bit last year, but I think Paul is much happier with him this time round.

“The defeat in last year’s race doesn’t play on my mind, because he feels great to me – and we know he goes well fresh.”

This year’s Queen Mother lost some of its gloss following the late withdrawals of Altior and Chacun Pour Soi, but Skelton believes their absence should not detract  from the performance Politologue put up.

He added: “Cheltenham was fantastic, and it doesn’t say that the race cut up on the trophy.

“He gave me a day I will never forget, and I’m now just really looking forward to getting back on him.”

Altior will be among those lining up against Politologue at Sandown (Julian Herbert/PA Images)
Altior will be among those lining up against Politologue at Sandown (Julian Herbert/PA Images)

Politologue has yet to defeat Altior in their three previous clashes.

But Skelton is not afraid of renewing battle with Nicky Henderson’s brilliant dual champion, who has tasted defeat just once in 21 jump starts.

He added: “We are taking on Altior – but when you are running in Grade One races you expect hot competition.

“It’s going to be a good race, and hopefully all the key players turn up.”

Nicholls could also run Haldon Gold Cup winner Greaneteen.

Altior (right) took part in a gallop at Newbury with recent Fighting Fifth winner Epatante
Altior (right) took part in a gallop at Newbury with recent Fighting Fifth winner Epatante (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Altior, winner of the race in 2018, will be bidding for an 11th Grade One win for Nicky Henderson and recently took part in a racecourse gallop at Newbury with champion hurdler Epatante.

Harry Whittington’s Rouge Vif, third in the Arkle in March, faces a step up in class, having bolted up under a big weight in a handicap on his reappearance.

Kim Bailey has left his prolific winner First Flow in – while Castlegrace Paddy, who beat A Plus Tard in the Fortria Chase, could come over from Ireland.

Brewin’upastorm and Esprit Du Large complete the eight. But neither last year’s winner Defi Du Seuil, who disappointed badly in the Shloer Chase, or last year’s third Waiting Patiently were left in at the confirmation stage.

Waiting Patiently has choice of Tingle Creek and King George

Ruth Jefferson is considering both the Betfair Tingle Creek and the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase as she plans a comeback for stable star Waiting Patiently.

A chipped fetlock sidelined Waiting Patiently in January, forcing him to miss the Betfair Ascot Chase – a race he won in 2018 and finished runner-up in last year.

The nine-year-old’s last racecourse appearance was a third-placed effort in the Tingle Creek at Sandown last December, just a length behind winner Defi Du Seuil.

The Sandown showpiece is once again a possible target next month, with Waiting Patiently included in the list of entries unveiled on Tuesday, but Jefferson is also considering an alternative path which begins with the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

“He’s got a King George entry and a Tingle Creek entry, and we just have to figure something out with which one to go for,” said the Malton trainer.

“I know they are sort of extremes, being two miles and three miles. But we thought if we put him in, then we could have a look when we had a better idea, nearer the time.

“He’s fine at home. He’s working well and he’s happy, so fingers crossed he stays that way.”

Jefferson also issued an update on her promising mare Clondaw Caitlin, who finished third on her chasing debut at Cheltenham last month.

“I was pleased with her – I think she settled nicely, jumped nicely and seemed to stay the trip,” she said of the five-year-old, who was unbeaten over hurdles and claimed the Grade Two Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso in February.

“She maybe needed the race a little bit, but there weren’t many negatives to take away from it.

“I’ve always thought on better ground she would need three miles, and on softer ground she could come back to two and a half.”