Sandown hosts the first major 2 mile steeplechase of the season this Saturday as a small field lines up to contest the 2016 Tingle Creek Chase.
The Tingle Creek Chase carries more weight than other early-season Grade 1 races due to the scarcity of top class 2 mile open-age chases during the season. The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the only other open-age group chase run over 2 miles, while the 2 mile 1 furlong Clarence House Chase is the only other race of this stature that attracts 2 mile specialists.
In 2016 star novice chaser, Douvan, has dominated the headlines for the Tingle Creek Chase - first as an under Evens antepost favourite, and then for his unexpected non-declaration. However, his presence masked the strength of a field that includes a two time winner of this race, a star stablemate and one of Ireland's most exciting novice chasers.
Tingle Creek Chase trends
How the Tingle Creek Chase plays out tends to depend on whether or not the leading 2 miler on the chase circuit makes the trip to Sandown.
On the three occasions that a star 2 miler competed in the race in the last five years, that horse won every time. The two races which didn't feature a superstar saw the more speculative favourite finish outside the places.
Form stats won't do you much good when considering your selections. Four of the last five winners failed to win their most recent race before heading to Sandown, with two of these not even finding the places last time out.
The Shloer Chase, a listed race at Cheltenham, is something of a trial for the Tingle Creek Chase, as trainers frequently use it to break their horses in after the season break. However, it's also not unusual for top horses to underperform in this race. Recently both Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets competed in, and lost, the Shloer Chase ahead of their wins in the Tingle Creek Chase.
Finally, the tendency for this race to produce repeat winners can't be ignored. Since 1979 a total of ten horses have won the race more than once. It's also not unusual for horses to win back the title after losing it, with three horses achieving this feat since 2000.
2016 Tingle Creek Chase field
Douvan cast a long shadow over the 2016 Tingle Creek Chase field before Willie Mullins made the late decision not to run his star novice chaser at Sandown this Saturday.
With the short odds favourite out the picture, Sire De Grugy's prospects of retaining the Tingle Creek Chase title took a boost. A two-time winner of the Tingle Creek Chase, he's been out of sorts since taking his last win at Sandown, and endured a winless 2015-16 season.
However, he showed a return to form at Ascot in November, taking a 2 mile handicap by just over a length. Whether he'll be able to pick it up from there remains to be seen, but at 9/2 he's still an option for this race - bearing in mind it will only pay out two places.
If you're looking for the value bet in the field, then God's Own is an easy pick. He's been run off his preferred distance so far this season, resulting in a single place at Aintree in October followed by a 3rd place in a field of seven last time out.
However, keep in mind that recent form is not a useful cue for the Tingle Creek Chase. If you cast your eye further back you'll find that God's Own won his most recent race over 2 miles, taking the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Chase at the end of last season. Prior to that he won the Grade 1 Melling Chase at the Aintree Festival.
With Douvan waiting this race out, Willie Mullins has kept faith in Un De Sceaux, and with Douvan out the field he becomes a serious contender. He was a winner in last season's Clarence House Chase, and has bagged another four Grade 1 titles over the course of his career over fences.
With a resume like that you can't afford to take him lightly, and should pay scant regard to his performances over longer distances in hurdles races over the summer. Bookies have installed him as the race favourite, which may not quite reflect the quality he's up against in this race.
2016 Tingle Creek Chase tip
Our read of the field suggests that God's Own is the best value bet. Priced at 8/1 (with this price likely to drop sharply ahead of race day), he's the one horse in the field who could surprise Un De Sceaux, and will still offer a handy payout if he only places.