Former jockey Mikey Ennis, enjoying a JETS internship at Racing UK, reveals the challenges of riding over fences at Sandown and assesses how the Tingle Creek at Sandown might unfold. Plus he gives his big-race verdict.
Sandown presents such a unique test of jumping for chasers, especially over two miles, mainly because of the seven fences down the back straight, the last three being the railway fences which come in quick succession.
While getting a chaser into a good rhythm over their fences is always key, the ability to snap out of that and become quick, agile and accurate are of the utmost importance around here.
Saturday’s feature represents another top class renewal of one of our favourite speed-orientated chases of the calendar, and what it lacks in numbers it most definitely makes up for in mighty strength and depth. The 16 Grade One wins between the four runners is a pretty incredible statistic.
Altior is three from three over fences at Sandown
Ask most people who ride horses for a living who they would choose and you’ll get the same answer in Altior, with his rock solid form and awesome jumping capabilities being the principal reasons.
But there are cases to be made for every contestant and Ruby Walsh, Daryl Jacob and Gavin Sheehan will walk into the paddock believing that there may be a chink in the favourite’s armour.
Wishful thinking maybe, but these hot favourites get beat every day, just as we saw with Might Bite a couple of weeks ago in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
It has been a tricky and unusual autumn to prepare a chaser, and it is well documented that this too was applicable to the Seven Barrows team.
Altior, in common with Un De Sceaux, lacks a recent run so that is a potential question mark, although he’s not needed a run in the past and had a race course workout at Newbury last month.
Looking at how it might unfold, there is no lack of pace with Saint Calvados and Un De Sceaux habitual front-runners. The pair look sure to take them along at a very respectable gallop.
If the latter, who is inclined to run freely, is a touch fresh on his comeback run, racing a mere fraction too quickly would surely mean he would be the first of the pair to burn out.
Sceau Royal bolted up in a Grade One at Sandown last year
Conversely, when Un De Sceaux beat Sire De Grugy in the 2016 running of this race, that was off the back of a break and he didn’t make the running, instead slotting in off a strong gallop.
Ground wise, things look like they could get a bit messy come 3pm on Saturday, so the ability to go on very soft or borderline heavy ground could be a huge advantage. Altior has yet to win under such conditions.
This, in turn, will bring stamina to the fore, so the single piece of form that stands out for me is Un De Sceaux’s front-running success in heavy ground over 2m4f at Fairyhouse in the Grade Two Devenish Chase in April.
That angle for him could make up for what he lacks on official ratings with Altior.
Sceau Royal is only a six-year-old and potentially holds the card of the biggest improver.
He may improve for his comeback run at Cheltenham and also has the benefit of having won here last year in the Grade One Henry VIII Novice Chase, which gives him valuable course jumping experience.
Sceau Royal is still well behind on ratings – he is officially rated 16lb inferior - but he has age and a comeback run on his side.
I fancy we could be in for a turn up and that Un De Sceaux and Sceau Royal will fight out the finish. It is the younger of the two who is the most exciting for me.