EVEN though only four runners have been declared for tomorrow's Betfair Tingle Creek Chase (3.00pm) at Sandown Park, the race now has a far more open look than had seemed likely a week ago.
Plenty of rain has hit Esher this week meaning a race that had been billed as just a match between ALTIOR and the rapidly improving Sceau Royal, has now taken on a whole new dimension.
Willie Mullins is now represented by 2016 winner Un de Sceaux who is a real threat on his favoured soft ground, while Saint Calvados is another who relishes a softer surface and looks a Grade One winner waiting to happen.
There is no getting away from the fact that the one obvious name missing from a glittering recent roll of honour for the Grade One prize is Altior, but Nicky Henderson’s stable star has a far harder task now that the ground has turned soft.
However, the presence of those three rivals means that Altior is rapidly becoming a backable price and the 4/6 available with the sponsors looks the call.
The eight-year-old’s winning run over hurdles and fences stretches back to April 2015 where he was beaten in a Punchestown bumper.
Since then, he has won 14 on the bounce, six at Grade One level, including three Cheltenham Festival wins in the Supreme Novices (2016), Arkle Chase (2017) and last year’s Champion Chase.
Wind surgery prevented him from taking in this contest 12 months ago, but a smooth preparation this time around means we are hopefully likely to see him in action a lot more than the three times we did last season.
He has looked pretty special in all three starts at Sandown and the stiff uphill finish on bad ground will only play to his strengths.
This contest has been won in recent years by the likes of Kauto Star, Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy, and it will be a major surprise if Altior’s name doesn’t appear among that list tomorrow night.
We won’t know the final declarations for the rest of the card until later this morning, but another one who should take the world of beating is LALOR in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase (1.50pm).
Kayley Woollacott’s novice made a sparkling start to his chasing career at Cheltenham last month and is now nearly favourite for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival.
This doesn’t look the strongest of Grade One contests and the recent rain is also ideal for the six-year-old.
There is plenty of 10/11 available if you shop around and I expect him to be much shorter than that by the time the tapes go up tomorrow.
Having recommended two relatively short-priced favourites, I am going to go slightly more left-field with my remaining two selections at Sandown tomorrow.
The December Handicap Hurdle (2.25pm) has a wide-open look and plenty will depend on whether either of the top two entries, Call Me Lord and Brain Power, stand their ground.
My guess is that one of them might, which will mean that 12 of the 22 entries would be running from out of the handicap if declared.
For that reason, I am prepared to take a chance on Gary Moore’s ERAGON DE CHANAY at around 12/1 as he will have a beautiful racing weight of just 10st 3lbs.
The best of his form has come on soft ground and he can go well despite being 8lbs higher than when bolting up here last month.
If the top two do come out then keep an eye on Man Of Plenty at around 16/1.
He has slipped to a winnable mark now and has run much better than his recent finishing positions suggest.
My last each-way roll of the dice will be SHANROE SANTOS at 10/1 in the Betfair London National (3.35pm).
This will take some getting if the rain soaks into the ground, but my selection is only 5lbs higher than when bolting up in a similar race at Fontwell last month.
Lucy Wadham’s nine-year-old has gone well at Sandown in the past and will also relish the conditions.
Lalor 1.50pm Sandown
Eragon De Chanay ew 2.25pm Sandown
Altior 3.00pm Sandown
Shanroe Santos ew 3.35pm Sandown