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 seven runner field all 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 seven declared all of them can be covered in our race preview starting at the top with the Paul Nicholls trained Dodging Bullets (25/1). Now a nine-year-old, he 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. Returning to Cheltenham may be a help to him but does look to have seen his best days at this stage and it’d be quite the surprise to see him returning to the winners enclosure.
Un De Sceaux (8/15) is trading at a pretty short price at present and before the rescheduling but then again he is trained by the amazing Willie Mullins and did win the Tingle Creek last time out where he had some decent sorts 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 Monther 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. 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”. The race changing to Cheltenham does put the race firmly back in his favour and he looks sure to be a tough nut to crack and close to impossible to oppose here..
As is often the case, the Irish are not single handed for our more valuable races and Special Tiara (9/2) 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. Henry De Bromhead’s yard is going well at present 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 (12/1) 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 (33/1) 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.
Only one horse was added to the field when it was moved to Cheltenham (from an abandoned Ascot) when Alan King put Uxizandre (16/1) in for his first race since winning the Ryanair Chase over two miles five furlongs at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. As well as being better over further than the minimum trip this will be his first run in 688 days and thus a huge ask even for his in-form stable. He has won over this trip on the new course here, but his overall profile includes a three mile hurdle win and surely some of the top chasers in training will have too much pace for him this afternoon in this class.
Last of all, Jonjo O’Neill has Eastlake (50/1) 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 two wins around here and won’t mind the ground either, but as things stand he does look a bit outclassed and may well struggle here.