Clarence House Chase (Grade 1)
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No great surprise to see that some of the better two mile chasers in recent years have competed in and won this valuable contest, and if the entire field stand their ground then the last three winners will all be in attendance making it one of the best two-mile chase of the season (until Cheltenham of course). With only eight declared all of them can be covered in our race preview starting at the top with Gary Moore’s Ar Mad, the youngest in the field at the age of seven and looking to prove last season was just a stepping stone to bigger and even better things. Four wins in a row from November through to February marked him down as a serious improver but he did finish over four lengths behind likely favourite Un de Sceaux on his reappearance at Sandown when trying to make the running in the Tingle Creek before finishing fourth. He does seem likely to strip a little bit fitter now as that was his first run in over nine months and he certainly appears to be the value call now with his trainer deciding to rely on him and pulling Sire De Grugy out of the contest.
The aforementioned Un De Sceaux is trading at a pretty short price at present but then again he is trained by the amazing Willie Mullins and did win the Tingle Creek last time out where he had two of his rivals here behind him with Sire De Grugy a length second and Ar Mad back in fourth. A solid second to the legendary Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Month Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2016, his form is hard to knock. However, he wasn’t as impressive as you would expect of a 5/4 chance at Sandown and will need to improve a little if he wants to follow up his 2016 victory here. However, jockey Ruby Walsh clearly saw things differently and said after the race that “Un De Sceaux was very impressive. We went a really good gallop and he doesn´t have to lead. He is keen but is not the fastest horse in the world. We got past Sire De Grugy two out, but he put down at the last and had to fight back”. His price this weekend implies Ruby has it right, but it is perhaps a more open contest than the odds suggest with the Mullins yard also out of sorts by their own high standards with just an 8% recent strike rate.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls took this in 2015 with Dodging Bullets but the now nine-year-old has struggled to reproduce past glories and is without a win in six starts now since winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2015. He was very impressive that day and looked as if he would stay at the top for some time but minor niggling issues have restricted him to a few appearances and he arrives here with a bit to prove. Connections have tried stepping him up in trip in his last two runs with a fourth of five over two and a half miles at Huntingdon in the Peterborough Chase last time out beaten twelve lengths. A repeat of that would not be anywhere near to good enough. Enough of the negatives, he has won here which has to be a bonus, beating Sprinter Sacre three lengths in the process, but even at his very best he would still have a little bit to find with Un De Sceaux this afternoon.
As is often the case, the Irish are not single handed for our more valuable races and Special Tiara is all set to take his place in the line-up at the veteran age of ten. Trained by the excellent Henry De Bromhead, he looked as good as ever last time out when winning at Kempton but he does like to make the running as he did there and will have others more than happy to take him on for the lead today. His trainer has the highest winning strike rate in this line up at 22% in the last fortnight and jockey Noel Fehily was pretty pleased straight after his last race saying “It is not easy to win Grade 2’s. I thought Special Tiara won quite nicely and Sir Valentino is not a bad horse who was running well in the Tingle Creek. I think he is better over a stiffer 2m than this, but I was happy with him and it was a good run”, and as that was only his third race of the new season he should be cherry ripe for a serious attack at this prize as long as he doesn’t sulk if the likes of Ar Mad take him on for the early lead.
Kerry Lee is struggling a little to repeat the successes of last season but in Top Gamble is a very decent chaser and not to be ignored. With six wins from thirteen starts over fences, his form does fall a fraction short of his main challengers here and he has been beat ten lengths by Dodging Bullets. He was last seen at Cheltenham over two miles five when a three and a half-length third to Shantou Flyer. That seems to leave him with about half a stone or so to find with the principles but he does look the sort to improve with age and could yet be the dark horse here.
Whether the drop back to two miles will suit Royal Regatta seems open to question after his last run saw a victory over two miles five at Cheltenham. He was all out that day and did have Dodging Bullets in behind, but is another would be front runner and seems likely to be run off his feet early by the likes of Ar Mad. If he can get to the front he may outgun a few for stamina and could take some catching for trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson.
Last of all, Jonjo O’Neill has Eastlake in here but the eleven-year-old is the lowest rated runner in the field. He has won nine of his thirty-two starts over fences which is not to be sniffed at, including a two-mile handicap at Cheltenham last time out when he saw off Un Beau Roman by a length and three quarters, but he has been pulled up in six of his last twelve races which is anything but inspiring. In his favour he does have a good record around Ascot with a win and a third from three starts and won’t mind the ground either, but as things stand he does look a bit outclassed and may well struggle here.