Defi Du Seuil defies Un De Sceaux in Tingle Creek thriller

Sandown's ageing concrete grandstand may lack the grandeur of Ascot or Meydan but when it comes to building a frenzied big-race atmosphere, few tracks come close to its spine-tingling acoustics and the decibels were off the scale as Defi Du Seuil repelled Un De Sceaux and Waiting Patiently in an epic running of the Grade 1 Betfair Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday.

With Altior absent for the time being as he flirts with longer distances, there was more than one in the line-up attempting to establish a significant foothold in the two-mile chase division and it was the Philip Hobbs-trained six-year-old who came to the fore, but only after he was pushed all the way to the line by the second and third.

Victory promoted the winner into a share of second place in the Champion Chase market with Chacun Pour Soi at a general 4-1, but his performance was not enough to usurp Altior, who still heads the betting at a top-priced 7-2.

Winner of last season's JLT Novices' Chase, Defi Du Seuil looked set to record a dominant success after jumping past Un De Sceaux at the last and establishing a lead of a length but the 2016 Tingle Creek winner refused to lie down and, as a chorus of roars funnelled from the stand, Un De Sceaux rallied.

It was tight at the post but Defi De Seuil had clung on under Barry Geraghty's all-out drive to win by a neck, with Waiting Patiently a further three-quarters of a length away in third.

"He pinged the last and I was committed then," relived Geraghty. "He just pulled up in the last 50 yards but he's a class act and it's a great race to win. He's not the biggest in the world but he's a terrier and a dream to ride."

While no race is the better for Altior's absence, the champion's truancy has breathed a fresh impetus into the two-mile chase division and the eight runners, closely matched on paper, did not disappoint racing shoulder to shoulder down the back.

Yet it was veteran Un De Sceaux who moved through to lead three out as the field began to thin, with only the winner able to go with the 11-year-old, who even in defeat covered himself in glory.

However, the day belonged to Defi Du Seuil, who no doubt looks a credible Champion Chase contender after passing his biggest test yet at the minimum trip.

"It was a very, very long run in," said winning trainer Philip Hobbs. "I thought going to the last he'd win quite well but he's run a fantastic race and jumped beautifully – I'm delighted."

While Hobbs believes just about any trip would be within Defi Du Seuil's compass, his latest appears to have taken him another step towards the Champion Chase next March.  

"It tilts us to the two-mile route but the opposition will be important as well," said the trainer. "He's very versatile and could go any trip I think but I suppose the Champion Chase is most likely. The ground at Cheltenham can be very different so that also makes a difference and we'll worry about it nearer the time.

"He's got a fantastic attitude and Barry thinks he'll have learned something today. The obvious next race is the Clarence House at Ascot but today was the main thing."

While the ultimate decision rests elsewhere, Geraghty was certainly favouring sticking with the Champion chase route.

He added: "Defi's won a Grade 1 Tingle Creek over two miles so I think we'll stick with that for now. We love him and he just keeps pleasing.

"He beat Lostintranslation last season and now he's beaten Un De Sceaux around here so he's at a very good level. It's hard to say he isn't a Champion Chase horse after that."

Victory was the sixth at the highest level for the winner, who has been an important stable star for Hobbs' yard in Minehead. Indeed, take Defi Du Seuil out of the equation and you have to go back to 2014 for the yard's previous Grade 1 winner, which came in the Ascot Chase with Captain Chris. 

"He's been massive for us," added the trainer. "We all need really good horses and to have one to go for the Grade 1 races makes a massive difference. He's been our flagbearer for the last three years and has been phenomenal. Big races are important."

Another really good horse is Un De Sceaux, who raced with his customary enthusiasm from flag fall, leaving his connections with enormous pride rather than disappointment after a gutsy performance.  

"I thought he was putting up a good show but what he did in the last 100 yards was better than anything," said trainer Willie Mullins. "He was coming back at the end, I thought he would only be third with 200 yards to run until he got a new lease of life just coming to the winning post. He ran a cracker."

Representing owners the O'Connell family, Colm O'Connell added: "He's the horse of a lifetime. We were actually thinking about taking the ear plugs out for this race and were wondering what would happen. What a mistake that would've been. It's impossible trying to figure out a horse going on 12.

"Best of luck to the winning connections, they deserve it and JP McManus puts a lot into the game. We couldn't be happier with what our boy has done."

Nothing finished stronger than Waiting Patiently in third, who put in a remarkable effort on his first start for 246 days dropping back in trip. 

Trainer Ruth Jefferson said: "It's delightful and sickening at the same time that we've been beaten less than a length in a Grade 1 and finished third but he's run fantastic.

"Brian wanted to get a little closer but after the false start he got pushed towards the back. He's jumped very well apart from one little mistake and he's flown up the hill.