Fox Norton, the second-favourite for the three-runner Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday, is expected to go to post for the Grade One event even if the ground dries out to good, Colin Tizzard, the chaser’s trainer, said on Thursday.
Un De Sceaux, the winner for the last three seasons, was taken out at the final declaration stage on Thursday morning, leaving just Fox Norton and Paul Nicholls’s Diego Du Charmil to take on the outstanding Altior, who is expected to set off as one of the strongest favourites for a Grade One jumps event for many years.
Fox Norton has not run since suffering a pulled tendon in the King George VI Chase in December 2017 and the possibility of fast ground has been a concern for connections ahead of his belated return to action. Tizzard, though, expects him to line up even if the rain forecast for the track on Friday evening does not materialise.
“We’ve declared him on good-to-soft ground and we’re running,” Tizzard said on Thursday, “and good ground is fine. If it’s good ground, we’ll run and I’m sure they will have it right. They’ve got Altior there and lots of other good horses, so I’m pretty confident that they will do everything they can to get it right.”
Un De Sceaux has options at Newbury, Ascot and Leopardstown over the coming weeks after the dry weather robbed him of a chance to make history with a fourth consecutive win in Saturday’s race.
Colm O’Connell, Un De Sceaux’s part-owner, said on Thursday that the Clarence House had been the chaser’s aim since last summer. “It just wasn’t meant to be,” O’Connell said. “I wish the next generation all the best in trying to achieve four wins in the Clarence House, unfortunately it won’t be us.”
Saturday’s race will have the smallest field for a Grade One chase in Britain since Oscar Whisky, at 1-6, beat two opponents to win the Scilly Isles Novice Chase at Sandown in February 2014. Altior is no bigger than 1-8 to win on Saturday and seems certain to set off as the shortest-priced favourite for a British Grade One over jumps in the last 15 years. That status is currently held by Sprinter Sacre, his predecessor as the sport’s top two-miler, who was 1-7 when successful in the Maghull Novice Chase at Aintree in 2012.