The first Grade 1 race for 3 miler chasers in the UK jumps season is the Betfair Chase, which will take place this Saturday at 3:00 at Haydock. The race this year forms the first leg of an amazing £1 million bonus being offered, if any horse completes the ‘Triple Crown’ of the Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The roll of honour in this race holds some prestigious names, such as 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander, and four timer winner and dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Kauto Star.
This year’s renewal looks to be one of the best in recent memory, with 6 of the 7 potential runners being previous Cheltenham Festival winners.
Two previous winners will return for the £200,000 contest, including dual winner and ante post favourite Silviniaco Conti. The Paul Nicholls nine year old gelding will be competing in his fourth Betfair Chase, after taking the race in 2012 and 2014, and finishing a creditable third in 2013. After disappointing in three attempts at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, his trainer Paul Nicholls has openly stated that Cheltenham will not be a likely option this year, instead focusing on Saturday’s big race, and then on to the defence of his King George VI chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Aintree at the Grand National meeting will also be a key objective this season.
A prep run over hurdles at Kempton three week ago, where he finished second will give a much needed fitness boost to the defending champion which will give him the edge over his main rivals, whom he has defeated before.
Cue Card goes in to the race in form after winning the Charlie Hall Chase last month. The Colin Tizzard trained nine year old, a two time Cheltenham Festival winner has had his health issues the past season, with a trapped epiglottis. This seems to have been put right after a dominating performance to land the Grade two at Wetherby. Winner of the race in 2013, doubts about stamina are quickly diminished and another bold showing could well be on the cards. The only doubt that even the biggest Cue Card fan can have, is that the he has not won two consecutive races since his finest season, in the early part of 2013. This has to be a big negative.
David Pipe will have two bites at the cherry going in to the race, with his former Ryanair chase winner, the popular grey Dynaste, and his French import Ballynagour. Both horses ran in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby last month. Dynaste finishing a creditable second behind Cue Card. Dynaste, an old rival of Cue Card, who finished 2nd behind him in the 2013 Betfair Chase, will have to find almost 4 lengths to overhaul the Wetherby defeat. Ballynagour, a consistent performer, will make his Haydock debut at the weekend. Running out of handicaps since his 2014 Byrne Group Plate win at the Cheltenham Festival, he will be ridden with patience, and hope to challenge the leaders late on in the race. Whether he is quite good enough to compete in the Big Grade 1 chases still remains to be seen. The main concern I have with both Dynaste and Ballynagour is the lack of form the David Pipe yard showed at the Cheltenham Paddy Power Open meeting last weekend, where the stable drew a blank for the first time at the meeting since 2007.
Holywell will take his chance for Jonjo O’Neil in the race for the first time. His first run of the season also came in the Charlie Hall, finishing a disappointing fifth behind Cue Card. Most of his best form seems to come in the spring, with recent memorable big race wins coming in the 2013 Pertemps Final, 2014 Ultima Business Solutions Festival Handicap Chase and the Mildmay Novices Chase in 2014 at the Aintree Festival.
He would be one for me to avoid in this race, as he thrives on better ground and the task at Haydock will prove too tough for him I feel.
With a prep run, and avoiding the Charlie Hall Chase against the rivals who have already competed against each other this season, I will have to side with the favourite Silviniaco Conti. The Kempton run over hurdles will have helped his fitness enormously and he will be fully tuned up to put in a big defence of his crown and his early season main aim on Saturday. If returning back from injury to the horse he was in 2014, O’ Faolains Boy could be the each way play of the race
Silviniaco Conti – 3 pts Win @ 5/6 with William Hill