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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Talking Horses

Sizing Europe returns to his optimum trip and can end the winning streak of Paul Nicholls in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park today.

It was understandable that connections were so determined to see whether the stamina reserves of the star steeplechaser can be stretched out to three miles. But the unavoidable facts are that he has now been beaten in all three starts at further than 2½ miles whereas all his very best performances in the same period have come over two miles.

Despite winning the Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010, it was as a 10-1 chance that he returned to the meeting to line up in the Champion Chase last season. But he exceeded most expectations when leading home an Irish-trained 1-2-3-4 in the race with Somersby doing best of the home team in fifth.

The form of that race appears to be stacking up well. The runner-up, Big Zeb, winner of the race 12 months earlier, looked as if he was still at the top of his game when just reversing those placings after a thrilling battle at Punchestown in May (Captain Cee Bee also franking the form in third) and has since beaten the exciting Noble Prince this season.

Sizing Europe appeared badly in need of the run first time out this season, as he had been last year, but was a lot slicker when reeled in by Quito De La Roque only in the final strides at Down Royal last time. He finished tired but has reportedly taken the race well and, if he attacks the Sandown fences with the same enthusiasm he did there, Sizing Europe could get today's rivals working right from the start. His blend of speed and accurate jumping is usually the right cocktail for this race.

Kauto Stone represents Paul Nicholls in his attempt to win the race for the seventh consecutive year and offers plenty of potential but surely wants a stiffer test of stamina.

Sandown 1.55 There is interesting opposition for the Cheltenham Festival winner Al Ferof but he should be good enough to make a winning debut over fences. A thorough stayer, he could end up needing further than two miles to show his best but the uphill finish will suit.

Aintree 2.10 Niche Market makes obvious appeal after a good run in last season's Grand National, where he seemed to struggle a bit to see out the trip. However he is short enough in the betting for such an open event and the intriguing Shalimar Fromentro takes the eye at the foot of the weights. He won well at Auteuil last time, only to be demoted to second, and clearly relishes testing conditions. On the basis of his form against Wymott as a novice the handicapper has taken a chance here.

Sandown 2.30 Denton might belie his big odds with blinkers tried for the first time but he will find easier targets than this, particularly with improving types such as Edgardo Sol and Ubi Ace in opposition. Edgardo Sol is preferred after comfortably beating a big field on his return to hurdling at Cheltenham last month.

Aintree 3.20 Brian Hughes retains the mount aboard old friend Frankie Figg despite the horse's move to join Paul Nicholls and this horse seems guaranteed to give his backers a run for their money. A bold-jumping front runner, he attacks the famous fences and is handicapped to go close in his attempt to repeat last year's victory.

Sandown 3.40 Despite returning from more than a year off, it could be worth chancing the thorough stayer Any Currency who will appreciate this test. He jumps well and boasts good track form.

There are good grounds for thinking Wishfull Thinking (3.05) can overturn favourite Sizing Europe in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown today. He was always going a stride too quickly in the Paddy Power Chase, but trainer Philip Hobbs believes that run has made all the difference – he is a thick-winded horse who has already had two breathing operations and isn't easy to get fit at home.

If Wishfull Thinking can get into an early rhythm towards the head of affairs, then his slick jumping could make him very hard to beat and the uphill finish ought to suit too.

Always Waining (2.10) has been aimed at Aintree's Becher Chase ever since winning the Topham Trophy over the National fences for the second year running in April. The worry for his supporters is that connections are convinced that he prefers quicker ground so any further showers must be considered a negative.

An interesting clash takes place between Cinders And Ashes (12.00) and Keys in the opening contest at the same track, with preference for the former. A short-head separated the pair when they were first and second in a Listed bumper on New Year's Day, but they have gone in different directions since. Keys put his stamina to good use when winning on the Flat in midsummer and has now joined Nicky Henderson for this switch to hurdling. Reports suggest his schooling at home has improved after a sloppy start.

But Cinders And Ashes has already gained vital experience over timber and was a shade unlucky not to win first time out at Ascot. Donald McCain rates this horse very highly indeed.

Barry Geraghty stays on to ride Master Of The Hall (2.45) for Henderson and it wouldn't be the biggest surprise to see the pair overturn likely favourite Nacarat.

Jumping errors cost him dearly in the RSA Chase last term, but he has always been a favourite at the yard and he may yet have more improvement to come over fences. Some of his recent homework has been outstanding.

Details of the recent parliamentary debate on racing in Hansard reveal the Hexham MP Guy Opperman introduced himself as the holder of an amateur rider's licence – "the only jockey in the House of Commons" – as well as a former racing journalist on the Limerick Weekly Echo. Opperman remained firmly on message in calling for changes to tax rules, but had an unexpected dig at the BHA. "I could say more about how racing has been led and about the disaster of the whip debate and the way in which the British Horseracing Authority and [chairman] Mr Roy have conducted themselves, but I have probably said enough," he concluded.

Attheraces presenter Matt Chapman will find out on Monday if he can repeat last year's success at the Horserace Writers' awards as broadcaster of the year. But he already has good news to celebrate having been added to the rota of racecourse commentators in 2012. "It just shows that dreams can come true," he wrote on Facebook.

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