For racing fans the countdown to Christmas always begins with the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and the Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree. The Channel 4 cameras are at both venues today and I’ve picked out my winners for the major races!
Tingle Creek Chase (3.00 Sandown)
The field for the Tingle Creek has been badly depleted with the Nicky Henderson trained star, Sprinter Sacre, not taking his chance after a dirty scope earlier in the week. This leaves the field wide open with SIRE DE GRUGY (15/8 Coral) probably the one to beat having shown a liking for this track in the past. He was a little disappointing last time out at Cheltenham, that wasn't the first time he has been a little below par there but it wasn't a bad run by any means. Captain Conan (5/2 Betfred) beat Sire De Grugy off level weights at Cheltenham last season however he hasn't had the benefit of a pipe opener and some of his stablemates haven't been cherry ripe first time up. He has also shown a liking for Sandown in the past, and if fully tuned up is the biggest danger to the selection.
The only other horse in the field likely to take a hand in the finish is Somersby (11/4 Ladbrokes) who won the Haldon Gold Cup first time up this season. That is smart form but the likelihood is that a bit further than 2m suits him best and he may well find himself a little tapped for toe when it comes to the crunch turning for home.
Henry VIII Novices Chase (1.50 Sandown)
The other Grade 1 on the Sandown card is the Henry VIII Novices chase which looks like being a mouthwatering clash and a guide to the Arkle chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Grandouet (7/2 Betfred) was the best of these over hurdles but having fallen in the Champion Hurdle those jumping frailties reared their ugly head again when unseating at the last over course and distance in November. He looked beaten at the time by today's opponent Hinterland (9/2 Coral) but as has already been discussed a few from this stable have needed their first run this season and he is taken to turn that form round here. It's a smart field against him and he may have to give best to beat TAQUIN DU SEUIL (3/1 Ladbrokes). He has been campaigned mainly over further, including a game beating of Oscar Whiskey where he gave him 5lbs at Cheltenham last time. He doesn't lack for pace either as his past form with My Tent Or Yours shows.
The Alan King trained Balder Success (7/2 Betfred) must also enter calculations. He broke the track record at Chepstow first time up this season and slammed Baby Mix last time at Warwick. Although he fell at Cheltenham in between the two runs he would have easily won that day as well. Baby Mix certainly didn't do the form any harm with a wide margin success of his own last time and the form looks strong.
December Handicap Hurdle (2.25 Sandown)
The 2 mile handicap hurdle at 2.25 looks a hugely competitive affair but one lurking down the bottom of the weights looks a good bet here in the shape of MILORD (9/1 Ladbrokes). He closed out last season with a 4th in the Fred Winter at the Festival showing he is on a very winnable mark. His seasonal debut may have looked a shade disappointing at the time but considering what the winner of that race, Ballyalton, did at Newcastle last weekend it's anything but. On his most recent start at Ascot he did the best of those held up off a steady pace and given a better gallop to take aim at here he is likely capable of better and should reverse placings with runner up that day, Specialagent Alfie (12/1 Coral).
Calculated Risk (9/1 Coral) has shown a liking for Sandown, winning here in March. He ran with promise first time up this year, staying on well in a good quality race after getting hampered at halfway. He can go well here at a price.
The favourite is the Nicky Henderson trained River Maigue (7/2 Ladbrokes) who found the Supreme Novices a little tough on his most recent start but prior to that he had looked like a smart novice. Deep Trouble (8/1 Betfred) has also been in decent form but he may be a little too high in the weights now to win however, he is likely to run his usual sound race and should be thereabouts.
London National Handicap Chase (3.35 Sandown)
The final Sandown offering is the 3m5f London National, the longest race on the card always intelligently run in the gathering gloom! A really competitive field here headed by last years Scottish National winner Godsmejudge (6/1 Labrokes). He is closely matched with Bradley (13/2 Coral) on his run at Cheltenham last time and should be all the better for that run. Bradley is a very consistent staying chaser and his tendency to jump right at Prestbury Park will be a benefit at this right-handed track. Court By Surprise (7/1 Betfred), the Emma Lavelle trained strong traveller can take a hand in the finish if his stamina holds out up the hill and over a longer trip.
American Spin (20/1 Betfred) is very interesting stepped up to an extreme distance for the first time. He undoubtedly has his own ideas about the game but should find the pace of this race to suit him and having won off a 9lb higher mark over hurdles is certainly well enough handicapped on only his 4th chase start. The vote however goes to the David Pipe trained FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT (16/1 Ladbrokes) who was an impressive winner at Wincanton before stepped down slightly in distance last time at Sandown where he ran on very strongly when facing home. He is still handicapped to win again now back up to a more suitable trip.
Becher Handicap Chase (2.05 Aintree)
The first at 2.05 is the Beecher Chase where a tentative vote goes to ACROSS THE BAY (12/1 Betfred) who ran a screamer in the National last year, his stamina giving way late on having been up in the vanguard the whole way and still in front 4 out. A pipe opener over hurdles should have blown away the cobwebs and off a 4lb lower mark than his National run he should go close. Join Together (12/1 Ladbrokes) was runner up in this race last year and first time blinkers may sharpen him up after a couple of flat efforts. He rates a danger along with the Irish raider, On His Own (8/1 Coral) who is tackling these fences again having fallen on both previous attempts.
Storm Survivor (14/1 Betfred) ran a cracker last time at Chepstow and having already shown his stamina and ability off this mark is taken to run. Other Irish raiders including Vesper Bell (12/1 Coral) and Sizing Australia (33/1 Coral) both have chances on the basis of past form.
There wouldn't be a dry eye in the house if Baby Run (22/1 Coral) were able to defy time and win this at the ripe old age of 13. It would be a monumental task off the back of a 2 and a half year absence but the stable won this with 14 year old Hello Bud last year. He has winning form over the big fences and surely wouldn't have been kept in training if the old sparkle was no longer there.
Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (3.15 Aintree)
The final contest to look at is the Grand Sefton, also run over the National fences. The lightly raced YOU MUST KNOW ME (14/1 Ladbrokes) gets the vote here, another one at double figure odds. He is not the most consistent of horses and didn't run all that well on his seasonal reappearance but if anywhere close to his 1/2 a length second to Boston Bob off level weights this time last year he has got in very lightly here.
Recent winners Midnight Appeal (8/1 Betfred) and Toby Lerone (9/1 Ladbrokes) should be capable of taking a hand in proceedings. The former won at Bangor last time, beating the lively each way Hennessy runner Loch Ba who had been tipped up in a few places last weekend. The latter has only won small races at Southwell and Lingfield recently but has done so in the manner of a much improved horse and despite the step up in class he may be able to take it in his stride. The biggest danger though may be Dunowen Point (11/2 Coral) who had already shown his prowess over these fences. Fitness shouldn't be a concern from this stable and he is a lively contender.
Channel 4 tips for Saturday –
1.50 Sandown – Taquin De Seuil (3/1 Ladbrokes)
2.05 Aintree – Across The Bay (12/1 Betfred)
2.25 Sandown – Milord (9/1 Ladbrokes)
3.00 Sandown – Sire De Grugy (15/8 Coral)
3.15 Aintree – You Must Know Me (14/1 Ladbrokes)
3.35 Sandown – Franklin Roosevelt (16/1 Ladbrokes)
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