'Sceaux' hasn't lost fire ahead of tactical Tingle test
Tingle Creek was a Halley's Comet of a horse. He won five races in America, breaking the Belmont track record, before coming across the ocean and winning 23 races in seven seasons, never falling.
He regularly carried 12st 7lbs to victory and when he won in Punchestown in 1974, he gave Skymas 16lb. Skymas went on to win the Champion Chase. Twice. Yes, I double-checked that too! He was at his best around Sandown where he broke the track record, just the three times, including on his final start age 12. His like don't appear often.
Into the race named in his honour comes Altior. He is undefeated over jumps in five hurdles and nine chases. He has won the Supreme Novice, the Arkle and the Queen Mother. It's possible he could even outdo his great stablemate, Sprinter Sacre. The annexation of a Tingle Creek is a must on his seemingly inexorable march towards greatness.
Only three have stood their ground against him. The diminutive Sceau Royal and the tearaway Saint Calvados each only have one defeat over fences but this is a step further in class than either has ever ventured before.
Un De Sceaux completes the line-up. Winner of 22 of his 29 starts, including this race in 2016, earning over £1,000,000. However, he is 10, the Ryan Giggs to his younger adversaries who are 8, 6 and 5. Only one horse aged in double digits has won this race since its inception in 1979, Moscow Flyer in that epic three-way tussle against Azertyuiop and Well Chief. This is no country for old men.
Nevertheless, Un De Sceaux is doing a fine impression of Clint Eastwood in 'Gran Torino' at home. He has dropped Virginnie Bascop, the key behind his longevity, twice in recent weeks and was borderline running away with a certain grey-haired member of our team whilst schooling on a frosty morning last week. The fire still burns hot within.
Like Giggs, he has refined his game as he's got older, he is professional and intelligent enough to know he doesn't have to lead all the way now and it will be intriguing to watch this race play out. Saint Calvados, with his youthful bravado, has to lead, with you would imagine Un De Sceaux following and Altior stalking.
How far will Saint Calvados stay in front? When will Ruby attack with Un De Sceaux? If Altior races lazily like he did in Cheltenham, will he find himself with a lot of ground to make up at the back of the Railway Fences?
It's hard to see Altior defeated but this is sure to be a proper steeplechase worthy of the horse in whose memory it is ran.
The John Durkan at Punchestown has five Grade One winners and sees the reappearance of the horse Altior beat into second at Cheltenham, Min. His work at home under Dick Dowling, our head lad, has been eye-catching. He is tackled by Balko Des Flos, the horse which took Un De Sceaux's Ryanair crown.
Ratings There is only 1lb between these two on ratings, Balko is higher, and it's sure to be tight. However, I think the majority of Balko's form wouldn't beat Min and on the balance of probabilities, I expect Min to win.
Below in Cork, the equine gingerbread man that is Great Field also shrugs off his quarter sheet for the Hilly Way. He is undefeated over fences. Be sure and watch from behind your fingers though, he does seem to believe that fences are speedbumps rather than jumps at times! If Altior does win today and Great Field does his thing on Sunday, then that could be the Fury v Wilder fight of our sport later in the season. Let's sit back and find out.