Much-anticipated by most horse racing punters, the 2015 Tingle Creek Chase will get underway at Sandown Park on Saturday – and all signs had pointed toward a comfortable lead for Willie Mullins' top ranked novice, Un De Sceaux, with bookmakers heavily favouring the seven-year-old 2015 Arkle Trophy winner. However, in a shock announcement on Wednesday it was revealed that the favourite would no longer be running: leaving the race intriguingly open.
The Tingle Creek Chase is a Grade 1 National Hunt chase taking place every year in early December over a distance of about 2 miles with 13 fences to jump. Only open to horses four years old or older, it runs at Sandown Park in England.
Un De Sceaux was set to head into the 2015 Tingle Creek Chase in red hot form following four wins from its last four starts over fences. Bookmakers had set their lines at 4/7 based not just on Un De Sceaux's form, but also on the promising news that Sprinter Sacre, a tough challenger, wouldn't be taking part in the race.
Despite suffering with a heart condition, Sacre showed glimpses of his previous form in early November when he romped home in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham. However, despite looking like he might be returning to the sort of strength that earned him a win in the 2013 Desert Orchid Chase, Sacre won't be competing at Tingle Creek. His trainer Nicky Henderson put the kibosh on Sacre's involvement at the close of November, stating that his horse just "doesn't need another race at the moment."
Mullins was equally brief in his explanation for the last-minute withdrawal, simply stating: "Unfortunately Un De Sceaux will not run this weekend. He has been a little flat in himself the last two days."
So, with Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux now out of the running, it leaves the outcome of the race looking far less certain – as well as giving Henderson more time to focus on his two other runners, Simonsig and Josses Hill.
The former only returned in November this year after winning the Arkle in 2013 and will be something of an unknown entity when the race gets underway. However, for those in the know, odds of 7/2 with most bookmakers (including Coral Sports, Betfred Sports and 888 Sports), represent decent value for a previous champion. As for Henderson's other runner, Josses Hill, the odds are more favourable for punters at 14/1 – though it's clearly a longer shot.
Away from Henderson's outsiders, it looks as though Paul Nicholls has the best shot at winning the day with Vibrato Valtat, a horse that's very much on the rise. Nicholls believes that the adjustments to his runner's breathing over the summer have helped the horse stay on after hitting the front.
However, it seems that every impressive display by Vibrato Valtat is tinged with some sort of negativity. Although his win in the recent Haldon Gold Cup was impressive, a slip at the last fence called into question his temperament when he's close to home. Although Nicholls believes this won't be an issue at Tingle Creek, it's enough to put a question mark over his head. However, uncertainty aside, Vibrato Valtat has replaced Un De Sceaux as the bookies' favourite, with short odds of 2/1 at Ladbrokes Sports and Winner Sports.
And what about the other runners in the frame? Sire De Grugy is the fourth favourite at 7/1 with almost every major bookmaker, include race sponsor Betfair Sports, while the rest of the field appear to be pick 'em outsiders. A cheeky each-way punt on Special Tiara could prove fruitful, but not even odds of 25/1+ for Third Intention are likely to be enough to coax the money out of punters' wallets.
Of course, the winter weather may still be intent on having its say before the runners and riders set off, but if the odds are any indication of how the Tingle Creek Chase will end this year, then it could mean a comfortable victory for Vibrato Valtat.