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Another fantastic weekend of racing awaits punters across Britain. Two weeks on from the Betfair Chase and last week's Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Sandown Park and the £150,000 G1 Tingle Creek Chase (3.00pm) takes centre-stage with one of the equine "fab four" attempting to stamp their superiority on the two-mile chasing division. Danny Archer previews the action...
Heading the four runners for the pre-Christmas showpiece is the undisputed two-mile champion chaser Altior (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville). Unbeaten in his last 14 starts, including nine victories over fences, the eight-year-old son of High Chaparral extended is unbeaten sequenced last term with three wins, including a game seven-length victory in the G1 Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before a workmanlike win in the G1 Celebration Chase at Sandown in April. He was arguably not at his vintage best last term in typical Altior fashion, he grinded out victories and got the job done - the stamp of a top-class performer. With an uninterrupted preparation for this race, Henderson has given his stable star a racecourse gallop at Newbury and seems delighted with his progress.
However, this is one of his toughest test against three top-quality rivals. Sceau Royal (Alan King/Daryl Jacob) arguably still remains unexposed over fences despite winning five of his six starts over the larger obstacles. A smooth 11-length winner of the G1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at this meeting last year, he missed the Cheltenham Festival following success in the Lightning Novices' Chase due to a slight muscle problem. However, he jumped and travelled with menace when landing the G2 Shloer Chase on his reappearance and will be suited by ground conditions.
Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington/Gavin Sheehan) was always going to make a chaser given his size and scope and he hasn't disappointed over fences, winning four of his five starts. A decisive winner of the G2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick in February 2018, he did too much too soon when vying for the lead in the G1 Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. However, he bounced right back to form in the G3 Poplar Chase at Naas last time, making all the running to score by four and a half-lengths in which the odds-on favourite, his old foe Footpad, fell at the last.
Completing the quartet is one of the finest chasers of recent times, the Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux. A nine-time G1 winner and the 2016 victor of the Tingle Creek, he showed he remains in tremendous heart when defeating stable companion Douvan in the G1 Boylesports Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival on his latest start. Whilst he is getting older, Willie Mullins reports that the 10-year-old son of Denham Red has not lost any of his old enthusiasm for the game and if he is able to get into a good rhythm up front, he could make this a fascinating jumping and tactical battle. Soft ground conditions are also crucial for the chaser and with rain proving persistent at Sandown, he will relish conditions underfoot.
Verdict: Tactics are going to play a crucial role in this and it will be interesting if Saint Calvados and Un De Sceaux go too quick up front and set this race up for the closers in Altior and Sceau Royal. Jumping is of course going to be at a premium and there are concerns that Altior does not handle Sandown as well as other tracks. However, his class is there for all to see and I still think he will come through this very tough test against three classy rivals.
Other action: The G1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase (1.50pm) is also shaping up to be an interesting event. The exciting Lalor (Kayley Woollacott/Richard Johnson) finished his hurdling career with a G1 success at Aintree in April and made the perfect start to life over fences with a breath-taking seven-length victory in a G2 contest at Cheltenham last month. He is a warm favourite for this event and was recently revealed as the highest-rated novice chaser from Timeform so far this term. However, he will face stiff competition from Dynamite Dollars (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden), second to Lalor at Cheltenham last time out, Highway One O One (Tom Cannon/Chris Gordon) and three-time winner Diakali (Gary Moore/Joshua Moore).
The Listed Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts December Handicap Hurdle is another fascinating event in which talented hurdler Apple's Shakira (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty) makes her return to action. The J P McManus-owned filly was only fourth when strongly fancied for the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, before finishing third at Aintree in April and it will be fascinating to see how she gets on this term.
Over at Aintree, Charlie Hall Chased winner Definitly Red (Brian Ellison/Danny Cook) is a warm favourite to land the G2 Many Clouds Chase (2.05pm) in which the 2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur makes his return to action.
The highlight over the Grand National fences is the G3 Becher Chase in which Blaklion (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies), a nine-length winner of this contest last term heads the betting. Not seen since being pulled-up at Sandown Park in April. He should appreciate the return to these fences and is joined by stable companion Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Tom Bellamy), who is an interesting candidate for these fences. Gordon Elliott also has two runners in the shape of 2015 RSA Chase hero Don Poli (Jack Kennedy) and Noble Endeavour (Keith Donoghue), in what should be an intriguing event.
ODDSbible Racing Saturday Tips:
1:30: Aintree: Ballyoptic & Missed Approach
1:50: Sandown: Lalor
2:05: Sandown: Definitly Red
2:25: Sandown: Apple's Shakira
3:00: Sandown: Altior
3:15: Sandown: Captain Redbeard & Forest Des Aigles
3:35: Sandown: Actinpieces E/W