Few National Hunt races set the pulse racing like the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown. A thrilling two miles over 13 fences with little room for error, the track lends itself to create pure jump racing drama.
Those famous Railway Fences are three obstacles taken in quick succession down the back-straight, where a horse’s stride pattern becomes crucial. Jockeys then have the chance, if their partner has the class, to gain a prominent position and take aim at the Pond Fence. Finally a sweeping right turn leads the contenders to the final two fences and the decisive uphill finish.
Some of the greatest horses ever trained have won this exhilarating race, ridden by the sport’s outstanding jockeys. The event first took place in 1979 and in 1988 was won by the wonderful Desert Orchid. That ‘Dessie’ was able to win the King George four times, a Gold Cup at Cheltenham, and yet have the speed and class to drop back in distance to win a Tingle Creek, is testament to the quality of the sensational grey.
Moscow Flyer had back to back wins in the races of 2003 and 2004. Jess Harrington’s superstar unseated Barry Geraghty in the 2002 renewal, during a period in his career when he invariably unseated the jockey or won. His victory as a ten-year-old in ’04, when defeating two young stars Azertyuiop and Well Chief in a thriller, was for many, one of the great races in recent times.
In 2005 a young French horse announced his arrival as a future National Hunt hero. Kauto Star won the Tingle Creek twice in a dazzling career that also saw him win the King George a record-breaking five times and the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice.
Master Minded was poetry in motion when winning the race in 2008, before winning again in 2010 when the race was transferred to Cheltenham due to the weather. His effortless jumping along with a high cruising speed typified the perfect profile of a Tingle Creek winner. A similar jumping performance from Sprinter Sacre in 2012’s contest hailed the arrival of a new equine star.
Several have won Sandown’s showpiece on two occasions but only one horse has managed three victories. Flagship Uberalles was successful from 1999 to 2001 and amazingly for three different trainers.
A half-brother to an equally terrific two mile chaser in Viking Flagship, he started his career on the flat for Dermot Weld. A spell with Patrick Flynn saw him start over obstacles before he moved to Paul Nicholls’ yard. Ridden by Joe Tizzard to victory in the Arkle of 1999, he won the Tingle Creek nine months later as a five-year-old.
Edredon Bleu proved too strong for him in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 2000, before he again changed stables, and arrived under the guidance of Noel Chance. In his first run for his new trainer he won the Tingle Creek of 2000 by 11 lengths when the race was run at Cheltenham. He only had three further runs for Chance before transferring to his final trainer, Philip Hobbs.
Again a Tingle Creek success followed his stable move. On this occasion Edredon Bleu was no match for the seven-year-old, who powered his way to his third victory in the race. He only ran twice that season, but his second outing brought arguably his greatest achievement. In March 2002 he finally captured the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham. This proved to be his last major prize and his illustrious career came to an end in 2005. He retired to the famous Martinstown Stud in Ireland.
But what of tomorrow’s event and the chances of uncovering another two mile chasing star? The race is sadly missing two of the division’s leading lights with Sire De Grugy side-lined through injury and Sprinter Sacre’s eagerly awaited return still on hold.
God’s Own and Balder Succes head the market after having met at Exeter last month in the Haldon Gold Cup. Both are progressive sorts and certainly look to have a great chance in a very open looking renewal. It’s difficult to split the two on bare form and much will depend, as always in this great race, on how their jumping holds up under pressure.
Somersby and Oscar Whisky are the ‘old hands’ in the race. The former was second here 12 months ago and is likely to be competitive again. It’s fair to say that Nicky Henderson’s contender, though classy, will need to jump cleaner if he is to land a blow in this race.
One horse that possibly has star potential is the Harry Fry trained Vukovar. Still only five, he arrived from France last year and though impressive at Newbury, was slightly disappointing at Cheltenham on a quicker surface in March. He is a bold front-runner with a high cruising speed, and should be thrilling to watch over Sandown’s fences.
Sure to be exciting whatever the outcome, the Tingle Creek has become one of National Hunt racing’s winter highlights.