NICKY Henderson says today’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown could be the toughest test yet for superstar steeplechaser Altior.
The reigning Queen Mother Champion Chase victor – and biggest draw in jump racing – is unbeaten in his last 14 starts, including all nine steeplechase starts to date.
His rivals include the Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux, a former winner of this two mile Grade One race, as well as the well-regarded Saint Calvados and Sceau Royal who already have wins to their name this season.
“Altior is in very good form,” said Henderson whose stable returned to form when dual Champion Hurdle victor Buveur D’Air won last weekend’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
“We contemplated running in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month, but we were happy to wait for the Tingle Creek – and he is in good order.
“It is shaping up to be a very good race, but we are delighted with him. With Buveur D’Air winning at Newcastle on Saturday, it was nice to get the show back on the road. We are looking forward to the race.”
Any rain will be a bonus for the Ruby Walsh-ridden Un De Sceaux who is a proven mudlark. Part-owner Colm O’Connell said last night: “If we’re ever going to beat Altior, we know the conditions we need. Obviously there’s Sceau Royal and Saint Calvados as well – that’s what makes it so exciting.
“This race is exciting and good for racing – people don’t want to see 1-5 shots in Grade Ones. Because of the fast ground, we seem to have seen the best horses take each other on earlier this season. The Tingle Creek looks another cracker.”
Flat jockey Kieran Shoemark is facing a lengthy suspension after failing a drugs test.
Shoemark has not ridden since November 24, with the British Horseracing Authority confirming the rider has been stood down for the duration of its investigation.
The jockey, whose main backer is Roger Charlton, was informed of his test result at Kempton on November 28 and “accepts full responsibility for his mistakes”, according to Professional Jockeys Association chief executive Paul Struthers.
Shoemark, 22, rode 65 winners last year – including one at Royal Ascot for Charlton – and came close to landing the champion apprentice title, missing out by just one win to David Egan.
However, after making a decent start to 2018, he suffered a fall at Lingfield in June which put him out of action for several weeks with broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Guiseley trainer Samantha England made it two wins in as many days when Ninepointsixthree prevailed at Sedgefield under her husband Jonathan.
It followed the couple’s success at Leicester on Thursday with Murchison River.
Cheltenham Gold Cup ante-post favourite Presenting Percy will miss tomorrow’s John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase in Ireland. Trainer Pat Kelly had earmarked the Grade One as a starting point for the seven-year-old, who is now unlikely to be seen before Christmas.