The Betfair Chase is the first Grade 1 event of the National Hunt season, and the big guns are out in force for what looks like a cracking renewal of the race.
Although now registered as the Lancashire Chase, the race is still commonly known as the Betfair chase, and previously made up part of the Betfair Million. This was a £1 million prize, originally offered to the winner of this race if they went on to win both the King George VI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Legendary steeplechaser Kuato Star won the prize by doing just that in 2006/07, but the Betfair Million was eventually dropped in 2009/10. However, the race remains as the first big chasing prize of the season, and a useful pointer towards the potential of horses who could go on to win those other illustrious races.
The race is run at Haydock Park racecourse on Merseyside at 3 o’clock on Saturday, over a distance of three miles and one furlong. The ground is reported to be soft, (good to soft in places), but further rain is forecast throughout Friday and overnight.
There are nine runners in the field this year, many of whom have done battle several times before, and the market is headed by last year’s impressive winner Cue Card and the third placed Silviniaco Conti.
Cue Card – +333 with Ladbrokes
We’ll start with one of the market leaders, Cue Card. The eight year-old is trained by Colin Tizzard and will be ridden this year by Daryl Jacob, after Joe Tizzard (the trainers son and regular rider) retired. He won in impressive style last year, fighting off the challenges of Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste, who both re-oppose on Saturday. He returned from a long lay-off and a pelvic operation last month at Exeter, where he was beaten into fourth behind God’s Own over what was almost certainly an inadequate two miles. He will strip fitter for having the run out, and trainer Tizzard is bullish about his chances of retaining the crown. There are slight niggling doubts about the horse though, as he was well-backed for that race, and it remains to be seen if he can recapture his best form since the operation.
Silviniaco Conti – +333 with Paddy Power
Paul Nicholls won the race four times with Kuato Star, and also once with this horse in 2012. He was third last year, which was an impressive run considering it was his seasonal reappearance. He was sent out for a season opener to prepare for the race this time around, but finished a slightly disappointing 5th in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, in which six of the field also ran. That race was won by Menorah, but Nicholls reported that Silviniaco Conti has come on plenty for the run, and will wear cheekpieces for the first time in the Betfair Chase. He will also act on soft ground and looks a danger, if he can put that Wetherby run behind him.
Dynaste – +400 with Betfair
The Grey, Dynaste, is trained by David Pipe, and will again make his seasonal bow in this race, after finishing second to Cue Card under the same circumstances last year. He went on to win the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year, and may be one for later in the season, but if he can put in a good performance first time out, he has every chance.
Taquin Du Seuil – +550 with Bet365
Jonjo O’Niell’s horse is perhaps the least exposed horse in the field in terms of form against the top three. The seven year-old will be ridden by Barry Geraghty as regular jockey Tony McCoy remains on the sidelines. He won a grade 2 race at this track in January, before going on to win the grade 1 JLT Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March over two and half miles. He could still have a little improvement in him over this longer distance, and his staying-on second in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby is a good indication that he’ll get the trip. He wants soft ground, so the more rain that falls the better his chances, and he should strip fitter for that first run of the season. Another one who will wear first-time cheekpieces.
The rest of the field is as follows:
Menorah – +900 with BetVictor
Won the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, with six of this field behind. However, his trainer Phillip Hobbs admitted that to win he needed one or two others to have an off-day, and his position in the market reflects the fact that some of those behind him are expected to turn the tables. Would also prefer better ground.
Harry Topper – +1400 with Skybet
Will benefit from the soft ground, and could be a lively each-way prospect, but difficult to see him winning.
Double Ross – +2500 with Coral
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies thinks Double Ross may have been overlooked in the betting, as he was a close third to Menorah in the Charlie Hall Chase. He could well be right and those looking for a big price could do worse than side with Double Ross.
Merdermit – +2500 with William Hill
Returned to the track in February after two years off, and showed that he retains ability when finishing fourth in both the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Charlie Hall at Wetherby. It would be a big ask to win this, but deserves to take his chance.
The Giant Bolster – +3300 with ToteSport
A distant 49-length last in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, and it would take a miraculous revival in fortunes for the nine year-old to take this race.
Four favourites have won over the nine renewals of this race, although three of those were odds-on. This year looks rather more open. Seven of the previous nine winners had finished in the top three on their previous outing, while eight had previously won or been placed in a grade one contest. Six of the nine winners had the benefit of a warm-up race before this event.
Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti, and Dynaste all come here with great chances, but preference is for Taquin Du Seuil. The seven year-old may have a little improvement in him over three miles plus, and the first-time cheekpieces may also have a positive effect. At the prices, he can also be backed each-way, with a second or third place finish guaranteeing ‘stakes returned’.
Saturday 22nd November, 3pm, Haydock Park
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