Paul Nicholls search for a new flagship top level performer looks to be over after Politologue gave him a remarkable 10th victory in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
The 7-2 shot’s half-length defeat of odds-on favourite Fox Norton earned him 10-1 quotes for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March and also gave teenage jockey Harry Cobden a second career win at the highest level.
While Nicholls may still be lacking a Gold Cup contender, he now has one to lay down a threat to the best in the two-mile chasing division, especially as question marks hang over the two biggest names currently in the category, Altior and Douvan.
Paul Nicholls’ search for a new flagship performer looks to be over with new star Politologue
While winners have still flowed copiously from Nicholls’ Somerset stable, his ability to punch consistently in grade one races has been much reduced.
Two top level wins last season would be a satisfactory return for almost any other trainer but Nicholls has set the bar high.
Inevitable comparisons have been made with the glory years when his domination was almost total thanks to horses like Big Buck’s Denman, Kauto Star and Master Minded, his dual Tingle Creek Chase winner.
Politologue, at 7-2, beat odds-on favourite Fox Norton by half a length at Sandown on Saturday
Blaklion heads Grand National betting
Blaklion heads the betting for the Grand National at Aintree in April after a decisive nine-length win from The Last Samuri in the Becher Chase.
Jockey Gavin Sheehan eased the 7-4 favourite into the contest and led at the last before staying on strongly.
Last season Blaklion finished fourth in the 2017 Grand National after looking the likely winner three fences from home.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who also won the London National at Sandown with Benbens, said: ‘Others will come out of the woodwork for the National I’m sure, but he must have a very good chance if we ride him a bit more restrained, like we did today.’
After, Politologue had sat behind pacesetting and eventual third Ah Mad before leading just after the penultimate fence, the trainer said: ‘I knew they would go quick and his jumping stands him in great stead. Harry said he just cruised there and ended up idling in front.
‘He reminds me a lot of Master Minded. I am not saying he is as good yet but he has the same sort of attributes.’
Owner John Hales has twice won the Queen Mother Champion Chase thanks to Azertyuiop in 2004 and One Man in 1998.
The latter achieved his win after twice winning a three-mile King George and twice failing to land a Gold Cup.
While Politologue holds a King George entry, Nicholls was adamant about the path he wanted to tread now, with Ascot’s Clarence House Chase next month immediately on the agenda.
He added: ‘John has always wanted Politologue to be a Gold Cup horse and we tried to make him into a three-miler. But I just thought we were riding him wrong.’
The King George may be an option for Colin Tizzard’s Fox Norton with the trainer saying the gelding would probably step up in trip now.
Whether that includes a shot at the King George could hinge on how Gold Cup winner Sizing John, who also carries the colours of the late Alan and Ann Potts, gets on in this afternoon’s John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.
The sad postscript to the Tingle Creek was the fatal last fence fall of Sir Valentino.
Meanwhile, Alan King-trained Sceaux Royal looks a genuine Arkle Chase hope after his decisive win Sandown’s Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.
Owner Simon Munir, who is enjoying a fruitful season, also has Willie Mullins-trained Footpad for the Arkle as well as King George and Gold Cup hope in his Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai.