ALL eyes will be on Ascot as the magnificent Un De Sceaux takes on Defi Du Seuil in the Clarence House Chase on Saturday.
The pair were involved in a thrilling finish to the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last month, with only a neck between them at the line in a titanic finish.
Defi Du Seuil is a quality horse and is unbeaten in two races this season over two miles, having won over two and a half miles at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
Un De Sceaux is now a 12-year-old and is bidding for a fourth win in this race. He has truly captured the hearts of racing fans in both Britain and Ireland in a remarkable career.
Altior was not among the five confirmations, with Nicky Henderson announcing on Monday that the dual champion chaser will instead wait for the Game Spirit at Newbury next month.
Henderson is likely to be represented instead by Janika, who was fourth in the Tingle Creek and subsequently filled the same position in the Relkeel Hurdle.
But there is only one starting point when assessing this race and it’s with the locally owned Un De Sceaux has won over €1.5m in prize money and has been described by Willie Mullins as an ‘Iron Horse’.
This brilliant French bred has been the horse of many lifetimes for the O’Connell family as he just gives it everything even as a 12-year-old.
The O’Connell family and crew bring a real buzz to the parade ring and their blue and orange scarfs are a much sought after accessory on cold winter days.
Co-owner Colm O’Connell jokes: “The scarves certainly took off and it’s great to take on the big boys in races like these.
“Jumps fans just love these big clashes on a Saturday afternoon. We’re all looking forward to the big race and it promises to be another cracker.
“Defi Du Seuil looks a horse on the rise and he just edged us out the last day. According to the gang in Willie’s (Mullins) our horse has been working very well.
“I know we are in bonus territory at this stage as our lad could be classified as a veteran. But he is behaving like a four-year-old and just has this remarkable appetite for racing still.
“Now to be fair, he probably wasn’t over raced which has made his career last so long. Everyone knows our horse prefers soft ground and he looks like getting it at present.
“Fingers crossed we get around safely with Paul Townend and if we win it would be something very special.“
Former Cork bookmaker Joe Donnelly already has the Gold Cup favourite with Al Boum Photo, but he may have another star on his hands with novice hurdler Shishkin who put in a very eye catching performance at Newbury on Wednesday.
Shiskin moved up the pecking order at Nicky Henderson’s yard and thrust himself into the picture for the Cheltenham Festival.
After suffering a fall on his debut over hurdles at the track last month, the six-year-old made amends as he showed a smart change of gear late on to run out an 11-length winner of the Mansion Bet Proud To Sponsor British Racing Novices’ Hurdle.
Running in the colours of Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo, Shishkin was cut to 10-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by Coral, while Betfair went 16-1 and then 10-1 for the same race and 20-1 for the Ballymore.
Henderson is a genius at getting horses ready for the Festival and has a serious crop of horses this winter.
Henderson said of his 7-4 winner: “He is smart. It was just unfortunate what happened here first time.
“As Nico said, it was liked he learned something — he was quite gassy then and he was trying to take the world on, as he is enthusiastic as well.
“Today he was just beautifully relaxed and never touched a hurdle. I think to do that in that ground was good, as not many horses quicken out of that, so you would have to be impressed. He has got gears.”
Assessing Shishkin’s future plans, Henderson hinted a step up to two and a half miles could be on the cards.
“You’d better think about the Ballymore as well, as I won’t promise it will be the Supreme as Nico thought another half a mile might help him.
“I would like another run. It’s experience that I want and I wouldn’t be frightened of finding a nice little race.
“That would do well (the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon). Timing is about right from mid-Jan to mid-Feb to March, I would think.”
Finally, Conna handler Liam Burke has seen many a good horse and is looking forward to aiming his stable star Sumos Novios at the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park.
Burke won Gowran’s feature race in 2016 with My Murphy and said: “Originally I felt the Thyestes was not the place to go as he’s best over a bit shorter, but there aren’t too many options.
“There is the Kinloch Brae at Thurles and the Red Mills at Gowran. The ground will be too good for him at Leopardstown. He’s gone up 6lb which puts him on a mark of 150.
“There is good place money in the Thyestes as well so he’ll probably take his chance.”