Underrated Un De Sceaux out for an amazing hat-trick in big race at Ascot
Richard Forristal on a headstrong hero bidding to steal action-packed show
It says much of recent events that at Ascot on Saturday we turn to an animal as recalcitrant and bombastic as Un De Sceaux for a comforting semblance of stability.
Who would have thought such an indomitable force of nature would ever become a totem of reliability? Somewhat incongruously, that is exactly what Un De Sceaux is, and, for all that his scalded-cat tactics made him an especially exhilarating watch in his youth, he has been ever thus.
Unbeaten in two French bumpers, the diminutive, free-running, bold-jumping chaser won 12 and fell twice in his first 14 starts for Willie Mullins. Since being humbled by the imperious Sprinter Sacre, Un De Sceaux has become slightly less prolific, winning just five of his last nine.
Nonetheless, in that initial defeat to Sprinter Sacre in the 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase, we got a first glimpse of the resilience that lies beneath the flamboyant veneer. Un De Sceaux showed an unlikely determination and tenacity to fend off the subsequent champion Special Tiara for second.
All of a sudden, there was a new dimension to the hair-raising rock star we had branded as one-dimensional, and he has spent the past two years reinforcing his reputation as being brave as well as brilliant. On the four occasions he has been conquered, he has finished a gallant second all bar once.
Whisper it quietly, but Un De Sceaux is the closest thing we have seen in recent years to the mighty Desert Orchid, who won the inaugural edition of the Clarence House Chase en route to that memorable Gold Cup triumph in 1989.
Shades of Dessie
By the by, if your spirits ever need lifting, check out the YouTube video of the iconic grey grinding Panto Prince into submission when conceding 22lb at the Berkshire venue.
Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s inimitable commentary conveys masterfully the sheer audacity of the feat, the sort of which is now impossible to replicate by dint of the fact that the old Victor Chandler Chase is no longer a handicap.
Today’s odds-on market leader will have to settle for a different brand of immortality, one that would be enhanced were he to become the first horse to win the extended two-mile Grade 1 three times.
Given the profile of other equine galacticos such as Douvan, Faugheen and Yorkhill whom he resides alongside in Closutton, you could say Un De Sceaux has gone a little underappreciated.
However, with the latter duo capitulating over Christmas, along with Djakadam, he has a chance here to reaffirm his status as one of the best and most consistent horses to represent Mullins.
In Ruby Walsh's absence, Paul Townend is charged with steering Un De Sceaux to a ninth Grade 1 success, and their first together.
De Boinville v De Sceaux
David Mullins was the lucky man in the hotseat for Un De Sceaux’s superlative Cork comeback, but he was unlucky when Brain Power stumbled at the final fence and deposited him on the Sandown turf last month, having previously guided him to a smooth fencing debut victory at Kempton.
This time, Nicky Henderson and Michael Buckley have swapped Brain Power’s regular rider for Nico de Boinville, who will be partnering the novice for the first time. Suffice to say, this is one of those situations that falls into the baptism of fire category.
Further north, The New One is on a four-timer in the Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial. Nigel Twiston-Davies’s stalwart might operate at a slightly less illustrious level to Un De Sceaux, but he is similarly loved as a staple of the National Hunt season.
Beaten only by My Tent Or Yours and Buveur D’Air in his first two starts this term, he will face no such lofty opposition as he vies to maintain his flawless record in this Grade 2 under the trainer’s son and Racing Post columnist, Sam.
The New One also won on his only other previous outing at Haydock, so he is looking to stretch his unbeaten run there to five. Likewise protecting a 100 per cent record at the suburban Liverpool track is Rock The Kasbah, albeit a ratio of 1-1 over flights is a bit less noteworthy.
One of 13 in the Peter Marsh Chase, the game Chepstow reappearance winner represents Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson, a combination that has been the very epitome of consistency since the turn of the millennium.
Spare Parts back for more
Four years ago, Un De Sceaux took the opening novice hurdle on Saturday's Navan card, and now the likes of Gran Geste, Spades Are Trumps and Veneer Of Charm all bring considerable potential to the table in the same race.
Then at Chelmsford tonight, Spare Parts will bid to bounce back from his Thursday reversal to reignite his purple patch for Phil McEntee with Nicola Currie in the saddle.
As he vies to make it five wins in six January starts and endorse his growing status as an inherently trusty operator in the betfred.com Handicap, he will do so conceding bundles of weight under a welter burden of 10st 7lb.
It might not be quite in Dessie territory, but it still takes a bit of doing. Good luck to him.
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