The Betfair Chase: I’ve been following horse racing since the late 1960s, and cannot recall looking forward so much to a race this early in the season.
So many questions hang over the 8 participants (5 of them in Timeform’s top 10 ‘chasers list).
Will Cue Card stay?
Has Long Run finally cracked after so many gut-busting races?
Will Bobs Worth be sharp enough this early to lie sufficiently close to what will probably be a strong pace?
Is Silviniaco Conti top class or just below it?
Can Dynaste justify the belief his connections have?
Is Roi Du Mee more than a right-handed mudlover?
Five weeks short of his thirteenth birthday, can the wonderful Tidal bay have everyone gasping and smiling again?
Will The Giant Bolster finally repay the fiercely zealous faith his trainer has always had in him?
So many imponderables, not least how Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card and maybe even Roi Du Mee react to each other in making the early pace.
I’m still not sure what Silv Conti is made of. He could yet be a top-notcher. But my suspicion is he needs everything to go right. When the pressure is applied by top class opponents, my hunch is that he will crack.
Cue Card has the engine to head the field from the outset, I’ve no doubt about that, but jockey Joe Tizzard will have to conserve enough energy to see the trip out, so he will need to get his pacemaking spot on. Neither of the other pair are particularly headstrong, so there’s a fair chance they’ll sit just behind CC. If a battle does develop up front, I think all three will suffer for it.
If Joe decides to try and drop Cue Card in, then he’ll need to get him settled early which might prove a tough job at that trip, burning energy and taking concentration away from jumping. My feeling is that he has got to go on at a pace that lets the horse relax in front and keeps the others on their mettle. They cannot afford to let Cue Card get away, but if JT gets his pace right, it will put pressure on the jumping of Tidal Bay and Long Run. It might also see Bobs Worth being niggled along at times to stay with them. Geraghty won’t be too bothered of he turns in with four or five in front of him. He will want to be just picking them off one by one up that long straight. And here, the focus turns again to Joe Tizzard and his pace judgement. If he has got it spot on, he should have enough in hand to hold off Bobs Worth on the run-in.
I’d like to see the admirable Long Run bounce back and run really well, although he won’t be able to afford errors and it’s a rare outing when he doesn’t start dragging that back end through the birch. It’s too soon to write him off but if he runs way below form again on Saturday, I think it might be an indication he’s just had too many hard battles for such a young horse.
I love old Tidal Bay whose been blunder-free in his last three steeplechases. It will be a sight indeed if he and Bobs Worth are coming with late runs approaching the last. Looking back, I was surprised to see that only 1 of his 39 runs has been at Haydock, when was 2nd to Imperial Commander in the 2010 Betfair.
I’m not a Dynaste fan, and think him over-rated.
The Giant Bolster is thoroughly exposed now, and runs off exactly the same mark as he did in this a year ago when beaten 7 lengths in a poorer race. And he’s still susceptible to the odd blunder.
Roi Du Mee has spent most of his racing life travelling clockwise – only 3 of his 32 runs outside France have been left-handed (won 2). Still, he has been running in mostly Graded races and his most recent form figures make encouraging reading for an 8-y-o who could still be improving: 51111211-F21. His normally fine jumping will stand him in good stead here too and at 16/1 would hold plenty appeal if the ground does become properly soft – that seems vital to his chance.
In conclusion – it will be no surprise to regular readers that I won’t be deserting Cue Card. I’m confident he has the best engine in the race, but whether it will still be spinning at full revs come the last couple of furlongs, I don’t know. But I have paid to find out, having backed him a couple of weeks ago at 12s. I won’t be laying off. Whatever the outcome, I will take the dose, be it champagne or bitter medicine. You can still back him at 7s. If he stays, I think he’ll win. If he doesn’t, he might not place, so, tempting as it is in an 8 runner field, you might want to think twice about betting each way and take the brave man’s route – all to win.
I’ll be leaving early on Saturday to head for the track. The last time I made the trip to Haydock with such delicious anticipation was for the Edward Hanmer Chase in 1979 to watch a three-horse race. After dawdling for most of the race, things took shape three quarters of a mile out with Silver Buck and Night Nurse locked in battle. Border Incident fell at the second last when still in close touch and Silver Buck won by a length and a half (Night Nurse injured a tendon in the race).
The old drop fences from back then have long gone, and thirty-four years’ worth of fine thoroughbreds have galloped up that straight in the hoofprints of those two great steeplechasers, but Saturday promises even more. There have been quite a few Gold Cups with worse fields. If you’ve never been to a racetrack before, Saturday at Haydock would be a brilliant place to start. You will never forget it.
Good luck to all