Victory on Monkfish was just the latest impressive ride by Paul Townend

Victory on Monkfish was just the latest impressive ride by Paul Townend

Monkfish and Paul Townend jump the last to win The Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Beginners Steeplechase. Picture: Healy Racing.

THE Tingle Creek has an iconic status as one of the leading two-mile chases of the season and it never disappoints. 

Some of the greats of the game including Kauto Star, Moscow Flyer and Sprinter Sacre have excelled over the famed Sandown fences while the victory of Un De Sceaux in 2015 will live long in the memory. Altior is the defending champion and Nicky Henderson’s brilliant chaser has been backed into odds on in recent days. 

While Altior has had plenty of problems in recent seasons he should be good enough to take this high profile contest on his seasonal debut.

His charismatic trainer Nicky Henderson believes Altior is much further forward in his preparation ahead of his seasonal reappearance this season. Henderson described pitching the dual Champion Chase hero in against Cyrname at Ascot over two miles five furlongs in November 2019 as asking "a silly question" of Altior. 

But he believes he has the ten-year-old in rare form for today's assignment, one that will see him face Politologue, the horse who claimed the two-mile crown at Cheltenham last March when Altior was forced to miss the meeting with a minor splint problem.

Henderson said: "He's definitely a long, long way ahead of where he was going into Ascot last year because we've had a racecourse gallop at Newbury. He's miles straighter than at Ascot, there's no doubt about that. 

He has won in soft ground and he's beaten Politologue in very soft at Newbury on a day when I was changing my mind every five minutes on whether to run or not, in the Game Spirit two years ago. He can cope with soft ground but two miles five against Cyrname, no! He wasn’t ready for that."

It was certainly a fascinating quote from Henderson during the week as Altior was beset by problems following that gruelling race. It probably ruined the season for both horses as Cyrame finished 21 lengths behind stable companion Clan Des Obeaux in last year’s King George at Kempton. 

Of course the media had hyped up the dual but to be fair Henderson has not ruled out trying two and a half miles on a flat track like Aintree in the future, although for now he is completely focused on Sandown and, beyond that, a third Champion Chase for Altior. 

Waterfall jockey Jerry McGrath kindly went through the Henderson string in these pages recently and he will be taking the plum ride on Santini today. McGrath is excited about getting back on board Santini in the William Hill Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.

Beware the Bear ridden by jockey Jerry McGrath. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Beware the Bear ridden by jockey Jerry McGrath. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The 29-year-old will come in for the ride on last season’s Gold Cup runner-up in the Grade Two with his regular rider, Nico de Boinville, set to partner stablemate Altior in the Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown on the same day.

McGrath said: “I won a Grade Two on him at Cheltenham going back a few years ago when he was only just coming on the scene. He has been a very good horse since and I’m delighted to be getting the call up to ride him next weekend. 

"The assistant trainer Billy Aprahamian sits on him most days as he takes a bit of knowing, but I will probably have a sit on him during the week or pop him over five or 10 fences to get a feel of him again. 

 “He has come on a lot for that gallop. He has never been an exuberant horse. Even that day when I won on him at Cheltenham I was off the bridle on him a long way out. He probably looks like he makes hard work of it but he always has plenty in the locker. 

"We need to start him off somewhere this season and we need to get a few more miles on the clock before he goes back to Cheltenham and try go one better in the Gold Cup. He is a hard enough horse to place, which is probably a good thing as he is so talented, but it will be a nice starting point for him.” 

Paul Townend is enjoying a great time at present and the performance of Monkfish really caught the eye last weekend at Fairyhouse. 

The son of Stowaway got the Fairyhouse Festival underway with a breath-taking display of jumping on the opening race of the card. Monkfish was a gutsy winner over hurdles in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival back in March. 

But his jumping over fences certainly had the wow factor and bookmakers were falling over themselves to cut his odds to 4/1 for the RSA Chase in March. 

Willie Mullins said: “Monkfish was very impressive. Paul was pleased with him and I had to be as well. He’ll aim for Christmas. He’s grown up a lot since he was beaten over hurdles here about a year ago. His jumping was very accurate and it looks like fences will be his job.”

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