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Imperial Aura could bid to bounce back in King George

Imperial Aura, who fell when going well in Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock, has suffered no ill effects, according to trainer Kim Bailey.

Having his first run since a wind operation, last season’s Grade Two winner was quietly fancied by the yard to gain a first success at the top level, but the trainer feels the eight-year-old will have more to come.

Bailey, speaking at Kempton Park on Monday, said: “He fell. What can I say? He is fine. I’ve no immediate idea of plans.

“We will see how he is, but hopefully he’ll be back here for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. It is all just very frustrating.”

The Imperial Racing-owned gelding was a winner at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and returned to action in October last year with victories in the Colin Parker at Carlisle and Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot, before unseating at Kempton in January.

His run at this year’s Festival saw him pulled up in the Ryanair Chase.

Monday Musings: An APT Comparison?

Last March, as Rachael Blackmore urged her mount in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to close on stablemate Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy up the hill after the last fence, she would have been excused for saying: “A Plus Tard” or “see you later” in the English version, writes Tony Stafford.

The comment might have been Lostintraslation for some – the much-fancied horse of that name pulled up two from home that day – but after last weekend when both latter horses won major races, the path appears set for a march to greatness for the Henry De Bromhead seven-year-old.

Lostintranslation’s easy win in Ascot’s Chanelle Pharma Chase signalled another pointer to the revival in form of the Tizzard stable – soon by all accounts to have son Joe’s name rather than dad Colin’s above the stable entrance. That effort, though, could not compare with the Irish-trained horse’s performance in running away with the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park.

Most enjoyable for British racegoers as the Irish won this coveted Haydock autumn feature for the first time, was that A Plus Tard carries the colours of Cheveley Park Stud, the principal UK-owned breeder which every year produces top-class animals. With more than 100 mares and in excess of 110 in training every year, Flat racing is the bread and butter. Jumping is the winter release.

Under the careful management of Chris Richardson the stud has fuelled on the enthusiasm for jump racing of Patricia Thompson and her late husband David. The couple won the 1992 Grand National with last-minute buy Party Politics, trained by Nick Gaselee and ridden by Carl Llewellyn, and in recent years built up a select team of high-class jumpers in Ireland.

A class apart though is A Plus Tard and although only a seven-year-old he has just entered his fourth season as a steeplechaser, and still has only 12 races over fences (five wins, five seconds and two thirds) on his record.

Much of the talk before Saturday’s race surrounded the possibility that Bristol De Mai would equal the achievement of Kauto Star who won the Betfair four times in the first decade of the millennium with one unseated preventing an unblemished five-race record.

Bristol De Mai, trained for the last eight seasons by Nigel Twiston-Davies and, like Kauto Star, an early acquisition from France after precocious efforts over hurdles, has won three. Initially he beat in turn Gold Cup winners Cue Card and Native River. He was narrowly beaten in the race in 2019 to Lostintranslation before outstaying multiple Grade 1 winner Clan Des Obeaux last November.

As with those two multiple Betfair victors, A Plus Tard started in France. Whereas Kauto Star had already raced nine times (winning three) before his dramatic step up in form to win a four-year-old Graded hurdle at Auteuil when a 36-1 shot in late May, A Plus Tard never raced at that level. His moment came on his fifth and final start (and second win) when collecting a 40k to the winner 4yo handicap early in April 2018 there.

Like Kauto Star and Bristol De Mai before him A Plus Tard switched quickly to chasing, running as early as November of that year and finishing runner-up in a field of 13 at Gowran Park under Blackmore – the first of the 11 races in which they have combined.

Remarkably, three races on and less than four months after that initial association the now five-year-old ran away with the 20-runner Close Brothers Handicap Chase. The only horse of his age in the race, he did so giving weight and a 16-length thrashing to Grade 1 hurdle winner Tower Bridge with 18 other decent performers trailing far behind.

His next run brought defeat in third over three miles at Punchestown at the end of his busiest season with De Bromhead. He was restricted to only three races the next winter, sandwiching defeats on reappearance and when a close third behind Min in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham with a first Grade 1 triumph at Leopardstown over Christmas.

And last season was another cherry-picked campaign of just three races. Again Leopardstown provided the one win, another at Grade 1 level over Christmas but this time without Rachael who partnered instead Minella Indo, who fell before the race warmed up. Darragh O’Keeffe was the lucky man to step into her shoes. Back on A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup as chronicled at the start of the piece, second place to her stable-companion and other regular partner came as their rally up the hill was a little trop tard.

There is an uncanny symmetry about aspects of the early careers of Kauto Star and A Plus Tard. Both started in France and showed precocity. Certainly in the case of Kauto Star, he burned bright for many seasons. De Bromhead’s deliberate planning for his young improving star’s career offers hope that his will also be long-lasting

The Knockeen, County Waterford, trainer has run him sparingly and, with a horse of such talent, there is no need to go searching away beyond the top prizes. I would be surprised if he turned out more than four times, with Punchestown a possible after Cheltenham, especially if he wins the Gold Cup this time. Next will likely be the normal trip to Leopardstown for a Christmas hat-trick attempt.

Minella Indo, who comes from the parallel universe of Irish jumps talent, the point-to-point field, is the De Bromhead version of Paul Nicholls’ Denman. That great chaser was a contemporary of and in terms of merit almost exact counterpart of Kauto Star and he too came from the Irish pointing field.

Kauto Star was by 29 days the senior and in terms of their careers with Nicholls earned almost twice as much as his colleague and rival, collecting £2.2 million from 19 wins in 31 chases. Denman won 14 of 24 for £1.14 million

When Kauto Star won his first Betfair Chase as a six-year-old he was rated 173. Afterwards he even once touched as high as 190 but mostly was rated in his prime in the 180’s.

Although at seven a year older at the time of his first win in the race, A Plus Tard is rated 1lb lower at 172. It is worth reminding ourselves of the ease of his win, and on faster ground than is normal for the Betfair Chase.

Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille kept each other company for more than two-thirds of the race on Saturday before Royale Pagaille got the edge in that private battle, with A Plus Tard always tracking them going easily. He was sent to the front three out and, pulling away all the way home, the finishing margin of 22 lengths over Royal Pagaille could have been much greater had Rachael wished.

Remembering just how impressive Royal Pagaille (rated 163) had been in the Peter Marsh Chase over the same course and distance last January, it was salutary to see a similar disrespectful beating being handed out to him. The winner must be raised for the win although Kauto Star’s rating as he won successively his first Betfair, Tingle Creek (two miles) and the first of his five King Georges brought very little reaction from the handicapper.

There was definitely a hint of Kauto Star in the speed with which A Plus Tard disposed of his 2019 Close Brothers rivals at Cheltenham, and again as he cosied up to Royal Pagaille before asserting. This was an exceptional performance but there is still that stable-companion and last season’s Cheltenham defeat to avenge before we declare him the best of the bunch.

Rachael Blackmore also had to make a painful (at least it looked that way beforehand) choice between A Plus Tard and her 2021 Cheltenham Festival winner Bob Olinger when that horse also made his seasonal return at Gowran Park, again with Darragh O’Keeffe as the beneficiary.

Bob, the deeply-impressive unchallenged winner of last season’s Ballymore Novice Hurdle at the Festival, was appearing for the first time since and enjoyed a nice school round to defeat useful yardstick Bacardys (Willie Mullins). This was the champion trainer’s first try at assessing the likely threat to his own best novice chasers later in the season. It might have dented his optimism a bit, but he usually pulls one out of the hat!

One Saturday winner who will offer some hope of a domestic success at the Festival is the Nicky Henderson-trained but Hughie Morrison nurtured and developed grey, Buzz, who followed his Cesarewitch success with another dominant effort in the Coral (to you and me Ascot) Hurdle.

While there is an intermediate distance race for the top-class chasers (the Ryanair) at the Festival, two and a half mile hurdlers are forced to drop back to the minimum for the Champion Hurdle or stretch to three miles and a bit for the Stayers. Otherwise they can wait for Aintree which does cater for them.

I think the level Aintree circuit would be perfect to utilise Buzz’s Flat-race speed and he would be meeting horses partly used up trying either of the possible Cheltenham options. But then, who can resist the lure of Cheltenham? Certainly not, it seems, James Stafford and his Thurloe Thoroughbreds syndicate.

Buzz races for the partners but, with a portion of the proceeds of their victories going to the Royal Marsden, Buzz will always have a feel-good factor going for him.

Never mind additionally that James did casual shifts for me ages ago at The Daily Telegraph and thereafter always greets me on the country’s racecourses as “Uncle Tone”. I can think of worse forms of address – indeed I’ve received a few in my time!

- TS

Bristol De Mai none the worse for Betfair Chase exertions

Nigel Twiston-Davies feels three-time Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai lost nothing in defeat at the hands of the impressive A Plus Tard at Haydock on Saturday.

Going into the race, the popular grey had won five of his six races at the Merseyside track in a stellar career, and was bidding to emulate Kauto Star’s four victories in the Grade One event.

However, in a strong renewal, the 10-year-old was pulled up before two out, with Daryl Jacob looking after the stable star.

Twiston-Davies would like to see more ease in the ground at this stage of his career. He said: “He’s fine. He is obviously not as fast as he was, in a quality race and on that ground. So, he’ll be all right.

“It was a very strong race and he ran well for a way, and you can’t fault him for what he has achieved. Daryl looked after him and that was good to see.

“I don’t know where we will go next – it is back to the drawing board.

“He obviously does need softer ground these days, but he is fit and well this morning.”

Williams looking to King George with Betfair runner-up Royale Pagaille

Venetia Williams has set her sights on the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase for Royale Pagaille after his fine run to be second in the Betfair Chase.

The seven-year-old proved no match for winner A Plus Tard at Haydock, finishing 22 lengths adrift of Henry de Bromhead’s deeply impressive victor.

However, Williams took plenty of heart from the outing as Royale Pagaille was a clear second best – beating third-placed Chatham Street Lad by a further 22 lengths in a race that saw Imperial Aura fall with Bristol De Mai and Waiting Patiently both pulled up.

Having won a three-mile handicap chase at Kempton last Christmas, Williams would have no hesitation in heading back there for next month’s King George, as long as Royale Pagaille recovers sufficiently from an outing on ground that was a bit quicker than ideal.

She said: “I’m absolutely thrilled, we’ve won the English division and obviously the winner is an outstanding horse, so you have to be delighted.

“He goes on this ground, but I’ve got to look at his legs for the next fortnight, that’s really why we look for the softer ground.

“We’ll probably go for the King George next, he’s won twice round here and once round Kempton so we’ll try again.”

Chatham Street Lad pleased Michael Winters in third
Chatham Street Lad pleased Michael Winters in third (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Michael Winters, trainer of third-placed Chatham Street Lad, was pleased with his charge’s effort, but admitted A Plus Tard was dominant under Rachael Blackmore.

He said: “It was about Rachael today. We were a bit anxious about the ground, but he has run well to be third.

“He can be a bit like a bulldozer with his jumping and take one or two fences with him. His jockey (Sean Quinlan) thinks that a sharper test will suit him and we could maybe look at something at Liverpool (Aintree) for him.

“His owner (Vivian Healy) is great and was keen to come here and have a go, so I’m pleased he ran well.”

Bristol De Mai could not make it a fourth Betfair Chase victory
Bristol De Mai could not make it a fourth Betfair Chase victory (Mike Egerton/PA)

Bristol De Mai was another for whom the unseasonably good ground was not ideal.

The popular grey was bidding to equal Kauto Star’s record of a fourth Betfair Chase success, but jockey Daryl Jacob pulled him up before the penultimate obstacle when his chance had clearly gone.

The rider tweeted: “Not Bristol’s day today. We’re all very disappointed but he doesn’t owe us anything.

“He’s absolutely fine, but the ground was too quick for him and I wanted to look after him.”

Simon Munir, who owns Bristol De Mai in partnership with Isaac Souede, added: “Bristol sound and well after his reappearance in the Betfair Chase. The ground wasn’t quite to his liking but the most important thing is that he’s OK and he’ll be back.”

Waiting Patiently (right) disappointed on his debut for Christian Williams
Waiting Patiently (right) disappointed on his debut for Christian Williams (Julian Herbert/PA)

Christian Williams had been hoping for a good showing from new recruit Waiting Patiently, but he was pulled up before the fourth-last fence by Brian Hughes.

The 10-year-old was also pulled up on his final start for Ruth Jefferson last season and Williams is planning a thorough examination.

He said: “It’s a bit of a headscratcher. Brian said that after he hit one he was never travelling. We’ll take him home, check him out and see if we can find anything.”

Imperial Aura fell at the 13th fence and trainer Kim Bailey reported him to be none the worse for his tumble.

A Plus Tard canters to Betfair Chase glory

A Plus Tard made a stunning return to action with a comprehensive victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

A close second to stablemate Minella Indo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, the Henry de Bromhead-trained runner was the 11-10 favourite to make a victorious reappearance on Merseyside.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Rachael Blackmore, A Plus Tard settled well off the early pace set by Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille and was still cantering in behind as the race really began with four to jump.

Bristol De Mai, a three-times race winner, was the first to really give way, with A Plus Tard making effortless ground to come upsides Royale Pagaille and assume control with the minimum of fuss.

Blackmore barely had to move as A Plus Tard kicked on approaching the second-last, clearing the final obstacle in style to coast home by 22 lengths from Royale Pagaille.

Chatham Street Lad and Clondaw Castle were the only other finishers, with Imperial Aura falling at the 13the fence and Bristol De Mai and Waiting Patiently both pulled up.

Coral, Betfair and Paddy Power all make A Plus Tard the 4-1 favourite to go one place better in the 2022 Gold Cup.

De Bromhead said of the Cheveley Park Stud-owned winner: “My heart was in my mouth as normal, but Rachael was brilliant and obviously A Plus Tard was brilliant as well.

“With his preference for left-handed tracks, this just seemed the obvious place to go – I was sick of getting beat in the Fortria Chase at Navan for the last couple of years over two miles!

“This is a fantastic race, it’s brilliant to win it and it’s brilliant for the Thompsons (of Cheveley Park).”

A Plus Tard created his own piece of history in victory, becoming the first Irish-trained winner of the race since its inception in 2005.

De Bromhead added: “After the 10th person told me no Irish horse had ever won it before, I started to wonder why we were here at all, but he’s got so much class.

“He’s won a Grade One over two (miles) and a couple of Grade Ones over three. He’s still only seven, so fingers crossed he’s got a long career ahead of him.

“He’s achieved a hell of a lot for a horse of his age. He’d been working really well and everyone was very happy with him.

“There’s a great crowd here and we always get a great reception.”

A Plus Tard is set to run at Leopardstown again
A Plus Tard is set to run at Leopardstown again (Niall Carson/PA)

A Plus Tard is now set to tread a familiar route to the Cheltenham Festival, with Leopardstown the next port of call.

He snatched a dramatic victory in the Savills Chase last Christmas and a title defence is uppermost in the mind of De Bromhead, who has the King George at Kempton as a likely destination for Minella Indo.

He added: “Because of his preference for left-handed tracks, the Savills Chase at Leopardstown seems to be the sensible way to go.”

Blackmore had not previously ridden around Haydock, but she enjoyed her Merseyside debut.

She said: “That was incredible – I’ll definitely like coming back to Haydock from now on!

“It was a fantastic performance. He’s such a classy horse and couldn’t have done it any better.

“He jumped fantastically and felt superb and I was happy everywhere. It’s not often races are that straightforward, but it’s very enjoyable when they are.

“You only have to look back at what he’s done. It wasn’t his day in March, but he’s proved today he’s extremely good.”

Rachael Blackmore with her Betfair Chase trophy
Rachael Blackmore with her Betfair Chase trophy (Simon Marper/PA)

Blackmore admits A Plus Tard is a personal favourite, having given her a breakthrough Festival win in the 2019 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.

“He’s very special to me as he gave me my first ever Cheltenham winner,” she added.

“He’s got gears, he stays and jumps really well. He cruises along without doing too much.

“He’s already established and is improving the whole time. He did nothing wrong in Cheltenham in March – everything went right for him and Minella Indo was a better horse on the day.

“Henry has got a massive yard of extremely talented horses and he is bang up there.”

Next Destination misses Betfair Chase

Next Destination will miss this afternoon’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Having saddled the great Kauto Star to claim a record four victories, and also struck gold twice with Silviniaco Conti, trainer Paul Nicholls was hoping Next Destination could provide him with a seventh success in the Grade One feature.

But the Ditcheat handler confirmed on Saturday morning that the nine-year-old would not be making the long journey north to Merseyside, posting on Twitter: “Sadly Next Destination is a non-runner today @haydockraces.

“My head lad Clifford Baker was not happy with him this morning having not eaten up overnight leaving us no option but to leave him at home.

“Hopefully he will be able to run again soon.”

Haydock Pace Bias Over Marathon Trips On Good Ground

Seven of the last nine renewals of the Betfair Chase have been run on ground that was at least soft and three of the last five years it has been heavy ground but a very dry spell this year means that we are likely to be racing on good ground on Saturday. This gives us a good opportunity to have a look at potential pace biases on better ground at Haydock.

Staying trips are the main focus at this meeting with three chases over 3m+ and also the Grade 3 Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle so these distances are where I will concentrate my efforts.

3m+ Chase Pace Bias At Haydock On Good Or Good To Soft Ground

Unfortunately we have a pretty small sample size here courtesy of the fact that Haydock rarely gets extended dry spells but the data we do have suggests that this is a relatively fair course.

Races tend to be more even from a pace perspective over longer distances and that seems to be the case here with front running, racing in mid division and being held up all resulting in pretty similar place percentages. Front runners actually perform poorest of all in terms of placing with a place strike rate of 25% but being near the pace isn’t a complete disadvantage as prominent racers have comfortably the best win and place strike rates. The win percentage when racing prominently is an impressive 17.05% and the place percentage is 38.64%, well clear of the next best 27.66% for mid division.

Despite the small sample there does seem enough of a difference in the data to suggest that racing just off the pace is advantageous over longer trips around the Haydock chase course.

Given how close the data is for the three other run styles it doesn’t seem worth doing anything with this pace data other than simply marking up those that are likely to race prominently. 

The individual pace setup in each race will of course have an influence on this so we definitely shouldn’t blindly assume that prominent racers will be advantaged in every single race but more often than not they are likely to be seen to best effect here.

3m+ Hurdle Pace Bias At Haydock On Good Or Good To Soft Ground

To be able to get more data into the sample I have included races run over 2m6f as well, a move that is unlikely to dilute the quality of the sample given the similarity in distance.

Again, still not a massive sample but we are seeing a fairly strong advantage towards those nearer the pace here.

Front runners have a place percentage of 29.03% and prominent racers have a place strike rate of 30.77%. There is little between the two but both compare very favourably with mid division and held up with those place percentages reading 22.08% and 20.20% respectively.

So both front runners and prominent racers have a similar record of reaching the frame, as do those racing in mid division and the rear, but there is a pretty big difference between the two pairs of running styles.

So once again, take into account the pace setup in each staying hurdle race at Haydock on decent ground but in most cases mark up those likely to race in front rank.

Stayers’ Handicap Chase Analysis

My preferred race to get involved in on this card would be the chase run at 12.40 over a distance of just over 3.5m. Even on good ground stamina will be at a premium.

Firstly, here is the pace map for this race:

It seems almost certain that Furius De Ciergues will go forward and if similar tactics to recent runs are used on the rest of the field he’s going to get a pretty easy time of it at the head of affairs. He’s an extremely consistent sort having finished in the first 4 on each of his last 13 starts over hurdles and fences and his latest 3rd has been pretty well advertised since with winner Strictlyadancer going in again comfortably next time out. He’s unbeaten in two runs beyond 3m2f and should be able to fill the places once again as a minimum, even if he is 2lbs out of the handicap.

There are four contenders likely to track the early pace and this quartet should be in the best place according to the previous pace data here. 

Speak Of The Devil is a consistent horse on good ground and he’s very much in form having gone close last time out. He could be suited by this step up in trip but he’s generally been running in weaker looking races than this. He does look a fair price though all things considered.

Captain Drake ran poorly last time out but that was off the back of a break and after a wind op so he did have excuses. He has good ground hurdle form but he seems best suited by softer conditions and he’s not the easiest to fancy here. Jersey Bean is another who didn’t run well last time out. On the best of his form he has more than a fair chance but he’s not the easiest to predict.

Defuture Is Bright looks a bit short in the betting based on this season’s form. He’s already had two runs and did improve from first run to second run but he was still 13 lengths behind Furius De Ciergues last time out and he needs to rediscover last season’s form.

Amateur is all about stamina and he’s been a better horse on his more recent starts after a wind op. If he’s fully fit for this he’s a major contender. Silva Eclipse has won here and finished 2nd a further four times but the majority of his best form is on heavy or soft so conditions could be livelier than ideal for him.

This perhaps isn’t the strongest race with several of these having questions to answer so I think I’d prefer to play Furius De Ciergues each way given he is proven over the distance and in the ground and he comes into this extremely likely to run his race which is more than can be said about most of these.

Solid Contender At Lingfield

One runner I have been monitoring for some time is Uther Pendragon who runs in the 11.35am at Lingfield. He’s certainly not the classiest, nor is he the easiest to win with (just 3 wins from 67 starts compared) but he does have a much better record of filling the frame (23 top 3 finishes from 67 starts) and he’s now looking very well handicapped.

He’s put in numerous decent efforts in relatively good races.

On the 22nd December he was a narrowly beaten 3rd over course and distance off an 8lb higher mark. The winner won 2 of his next 5 starts and the 4th won next time out too.

On 12th January he was 3rd again over this course and distance, beaten 1.5 lengths, in a race where the 2nd, 4th and 6th all won shortly after. Uther Pendragon was rated 9lbs higher in that race than he is now.

On 5th February he was a neck 2nd, again over course and distance, and the winner won next time out whilst the 3rd and 4th would both finish runner up shortly after. That run also came off a 9lb higher mark than his current rating.

Then on 18th April at Newbury over this 10f off the same mark again as previous runs, he was ‘only’ 7th, beaten 5 lengths, but the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th all won within a couple of outings after. That was an extremely strong race and arguably the best example of Hot Form all season.

Uther Pendragon seemed to lose his form after that but enjoyed the return to Lingfield last time out, trying to make all but ending up in 3rd. That’s not his typical run style so he should benefit from being slightly more patiently ridden from a good draw in stall 2. If he tracks the pace and is in the same form as last time he should be able to at least place again so it will be interesting to see how the bookies price him up.

History beckons for Bristol De Mai at Haydock

Nigel Twiston-Davies has backed the “exceptional” Bristol De Mai to emulate Kauto Star by securing a record-equalling fourth victory in Saturday’s Betfair Chase.

It is 10 years since Kauto Star brought the house down at Haydock for the fourth and final time, a feat which means the Paul Nicholls-trained superstar is immortalised in bronze on Merseyside.

Twiston-Davies is hoping his long-time stable star can earn similar recognition this weekend by adding to his previous triumphs in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

He said: “Bristol De Mai is really special to us – he has been exceptional.

“We were lucky to have both him and The New One going great guns at the same time.

“Bristol hasn’t quite won the Gold Cup I always wanted, but he was third once and he’s doing OK.

“It would be just great to equal Kauto Star. He would be remembered forever and who knows, there may even be a race named after him!”

The flying grey has won five of his six starts at Haydock overall, his only defeat coming in this race when runner-up to Lostintranslation two years ago.

Bristol De Mai has been off the track since being pulled up in the Grand National in April and is not getting any younger at the age of 10, but Twiston-Davies is confident he is at the top of his game.

“He’s easy to get fit, that’s the beauty of it, and we’re all primed and ready to go,” said the Naunton-based trainer.

“There was one year where he was second and that year we really struggled with lameness problems and he didn’t quite get there 100 percent.

“We’re as happy as we’ve ever been with him fitness-wise.

“The race looks as hot as ever really, but the one thing he always has in his favour is that he’s so easy to get fit and I wonder whether they all will be as fit as he is – hopefully not.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies
Nigel Twiston-Davies (Mike Egerton/PA)

Conditions at Haydock will not be as testing as is usually the case at this time of year, but Twiston-Davies is unconcerned.

He said: “The track suits him and he’s won this race on good ground before (in 2018), so hopefully it won’t be a problem.

“It’s just a superb track, I love the track and it seems to suit our horses.

“Bristol likes to be able to boss races and there are two long straights and easy bends, so he can just get out there and do his stuff.”

Waiting Patiently has not managed to get his head in front since beating Cue Card at in the 2018 Ascot Chase, but has won at Haydock before and new trainer Christian Williams is excited about his chances.

Waiting Patiently (right) beating Cue Card at Ascot
Waiting Patiently (right) beating Cue Card at Ascot (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He’s very classy and we just pray we can run him on Saturday. As long as the ground doesn’t get any quicker, I think we’ll take our chance,” said the Welsh handler.

“We’re confident. We’ve only had him a few months, but we don’t think we can get him any better.

“It’s a sharp track, flat track and he’s got form round there, so I think he’s got plenty in his favour.”

Another horse who has already shown an affinity for the track is the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille, who was a brilliant winner of the Peter Marsh Chase over the course and distance in January.

He finished lame when a well-beaten sixth in the Gold Cup in the spring, but is reported to be in good form ahead of his return by jockey Charlie Deutsch.

He said: “He has proven he can win a good race off top-weight in a good handicap and we know he likes the track, which is a bonus.

“He picked up a foot injury in the Gold Cup. His jumping was not as good as it normally is and whether that was down to the foot I don’t know. I’m not looking into that result too much as hopefully he is still improving.

“I’ve done a bit of schooling on him at home and I’ve done a few pieces of work on him and all seems great at the moment.”

Imperial Aura looked every inch a top-class chaser in the making after winning his first two starts of last season, but unseated his rider at Kempton in January and was pulled up at Cheltenham in March.

Imperial Aura returns with something to prove
Imperial Aura returns with something to prove (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Trainer Kim Bailey is hoping a subsequent wind operation will help him bounce back, while he is keen to see how he fares beyond three miles.

He said: “He has always been a horse that I felt would be better over a longer trip, though he is quite a quick horse. Going back up to three miles shouldn’t be a problem.

“It is a flat track at Haydock and I think the race will suit him.

“He has had a breathing operation over the summer and he seems in a really good place. I think you just have to walk away from the second half of last season.

“Is he good enough? God only knows, but at the end of it he is a very talented individual and he has got serious ability.”

Tom George expects Clondaw Castle to improve from his third-placed finish in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, saying: “The ground at Wetherby ended up being too soft. That track on that ground first time out just found him out as it stretched his stamina.

“The positive is that Haydock is a much sharper track and the ground looks like being better. Provided it doesn’t rain, you should see a different horse.

“I’m not a betting man, but I think he can put it up against quite a few of them if the ground stays as it is.”

The rank outsider is Chatham Street Lad, who needs to raise his game significantly judged on an uninspiring start to his season in the Munster National at Limerick.

Chatham Street Lad at Cheltenham
Chatham Street Lad at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He looks great in himself and by the sound of things the ground will be safe, which is the main thing,” said trainer Mick Winters.

“We hope he blew up and then ran on in the race in Limerick and he came out of it well.

“I suppose you’d be a small bit worried you might be out of your depth in a race like this. It’s a big ask, but if he can hunt around and pick up the pieces and comes home safely that’ll be great.”

A Plus Tard sets out on Festival path with Betfair Chase reappearance

Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson is excited to see last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard make his return to action in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

A Grade One winner over two miles a couple of years ago, the seven-year-old successfully stepped up to three miles when lunging late to land a thrilling Savills Chase at Leopardstown last Christmas.

Connections elected to head straight to the Festival off the back of that victory and it almost paid off, with A Plus Tard finding only stablemate Minella Indo too strong in the blue riband.

With Minella Indo having suffered defeat on his seasonal debut at Down Royal three weeks ago, Thompson is aware that the other star stayer in Henry de Bromhead’s yard is likely to improve for the run.

That being said, he is anticipating a bold showing on Merseyside from A Plus Tard, who will be a first ever runner at the track for the De Bromhead team.

“It’s very exciting to be going to Haydock on Saturday. He’s in great shape, I think. He’s bouncing around and looking the part, so we’ve got to go in with confidence,” said Thompson.

“It’s obviously his first run of the season, but apart from that he’s in cracking form.

“We’re hoping for a big run, but we’ve got to recognise that he could improve for the run, of course.”

Thompson believes the fact conditions at Haydock are unseasonably dry is a positive for A Plus Tard’s chances as he bids to deny proven mud lover Bristol De Mai a fourth Betfair Chase success.

Minella Indo and A Plus Tard (right) after finishing first and second in the Gold Cup
Minella Indo and A Plus Tard (right) after finishing first and second in the Gold Cup (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We’ve got a bit lucky with the ground – that’s a plus, anyway,” he added.

The main reason A Plus Tard is travelling across the Irish Sea at this early stage of the campaign is the fact he prefers left-handed tracks.

Provided all goes according to plan this weekend, the son of Kapgarde looks likely to follow the same route as last season in preparation for his bid to go one better in the Cotswolds.

Thompson said: “All roads lead back to Cheltenham in March. We’ll see how Saturday goes, but he’ll probably go back to the Savills Chase again and then on to the Gold Cup.”

Jacob hoping to emulate King Kauto with ‘people’s favourite’ Bristol De Mai

Daryl Jacob admits it would be a remarkable feat if Bristol De Mai could register a record-equalling fourth win in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

The bold, front-running grey is on the cusp of matching Kauto Star’s feat in the Grade One over three miles one and a half furlongs thanks to a succession of brilliant performances.

He has made the Merseyside venue his own in recent years, beginning with a 57-length beating of another three-time scorer, Cue Card, in 2017.

In 2018, he conquered that year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River by five lengths. Though he went down, albeit gallantly, by a length and a half to Lostintranslation in 2019, he regained his crown by two lengths at the expense of dual King George VI Chase victor Clan Des Obeaux.

Jacob has ridden Bristol De Mai in all but one of his 33 races since the grey moved to the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable from Guillaume Macaire in France as a young horse in 2014.

“Kauto Star was one of the all-time greats. He won four Betfair Chases. If this lad can emulate him and do the job he’s done it would be some achievement,” said Jacob.

“I’m very much looking forward to it. He’s been a wonderful servant to myself, (owners) Simon (Munir) and Isaaac (Souede). He’s won Grade Ones consistently most years and he’s a people’s favourite.

“He’s a Haydock specialist and it’s a home match to him. It’s as though he lives up there.”

Kauto Star admires the statue at Haydock marking his four wins in the Betfair Chase
Kauto Star admires the statue at Haydock marking his four wins in the Betfair Chase (John Giles/PA)

Unsurprisingly, Jacob finds him a joy to ride and does not believe ground conditions will play against the 10-year-old.

“He’s a very straightforward type of horse. He goes his gallop and jumps the way he does. I know him very well. He’s just a lovely horse to ride,” he said.

“He’s a wonderful, scopey type of horse – exactly what you need for a good three-mile chaser.

“He’s won plenty of good races on good to soft ground in the past. Even when he beat Native River and Might Bite (in the 2018 renewal) it was good to soft that day. It was a monumental win.

“Good to soft ground doesn’t bother him. His favourite ground is heavy ground, but good to soft is not a problem.”

However, Jacob fears A Plus Tard could be a major stumbling block between Bristol De Mai and that landmark triumph.

“It’s a very good race. It’s probably one of the best races we’ve had up there for a few years. A Plus Tard is going to be hard to beat,” he went on.

“He’s a Cheltenham Festival winner (Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase) over two-miles-five and he’s a Gold Cup second. He loves good to soft ground. He’s going to be very difficult to beat. There are so many conditions in his favour for Saturday.

Daryl Jacob rates A Plus Tard a big threat to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase
Daryl Jacob rates A Plus Tard a big threat to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase (Simon Cooper/PA)

“Obviously, Waiting Patiently this is his sort of track and he finished second in the King George last year. They are going to be two difficult horses to beat.

“Next Destination was touted as a very good horse. He’s got to step up on what he’s done so far, but Paul Nicholls is an exceptional trainer – a master of his craft – and you wouldn’t bet your last dollar he wouldn’t perform and run a good race.”

:: Daryl Jacob will ride Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday. For more information visit greatbritishracing.com

Next Destination primed to make it magnificent seven for Nicholls

Paul Nicholls is confident Next Destination is “ready for his life” as the champion trainer chases a seventh victory in the Betfair Chase on Saturday.

It is 15 years since the Ditcheat handler first claimed the Haydock showpiece with the brilliant Kauto Star, who is immortalised in bronze on Merseyside having also won the race in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

Nicholls also struck gold with Siviniaco Conti, who landed the Grade One prize in 2012 and regained his crown in 2014, and in Next Destination he hopes he has found another major contender.

“He’s a high-class horse with good form,” Nicholls said on Thursday morning.

Paul Nicholls (right) with Kauto Star at Haydock
Paul Nicholls (right) with Kauto Star at Haydock (Nigel French/PA)

“He hasn’t got the speed of Kauto Star, who was a one-off, and I’d describe him as more of a Silviniaco Conti-type as he’s an out-and-out stayer who gallops forever.”

A Grade One-winning hurdler for Willie Mullins in the spring of 2018, Next Destination was not seen on a racecourse again until October of last year when finishing second over hurdles at Wetherby.

The nine-year-old went on to win a Grade Two novice chase at Newbury on his fencing debut, and doubled his tally at Warwick, before finding only Galvin too strong in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.

Nicholls admits he would prefer conditions were more testing ahead of Next Destination’s seasonal reappearance, but has no worries about his fitness.

He added: “He’s done his last bit of work this morning, he’s in good shape and we’re looking forward to the race on Saturday.

“He ran very well in the National Hunt Chase. They went no gallop at all that day – it was a sprint from the back of the last and we could have done with there being more of an emphasis on stamina.

“One thing is for sure, with Saturday’s race being a Grade One, they always go a good gallop and over nearly three and a quarter miles, stamina is what you need – and he’s got an abundance of stamina.

“He’s won on good ground and soft ground. Being honest, if I was going into it thinking we had a massive chance I would have preferred the ground to be like it was last year really.

“We’ve tried to get him to this race very fresh and very fit and he’s ready for his life – he won’t need the run, I can assure you.”

Nicholls is well aware of the task facing his charge, with triple Betfair Chase hero Bristol De Mai and Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard among his rivals.

But having already claimed the scalp of A Plus Tard’s Gold Cup-winning stablemate Minella Indo with the admirable Frodon at Down Royal three weeks ago, he is relishing the challenge.

“It’s a good race, as you’d expect,” said Nicholls.

“You’ve got A Plus Tard, who was second in the Gold Cup last season, but the Gold Cup winner got beat at Down Royal. It’s a long way from Cheltenham and a different track and a different time of year.

“A Plus Tard looks the one to beat on form, as Minella Indo was at Down Royal, but they’re beatable at this time of year.”

Bristol De Mai heads Betfair Chase field

Bristol De Mai faces seven rivals in his quest to earn a record-equalling fourth victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained grey has taken the Grade One prize three times – in 2017, 2018 and 2020 – and bids to equal the mighty Kauto Star, who was successful in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

There is strong opposition, including Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard, who makes his first appearance since filling the runner-up spot behind stablemate Minella Indo in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Chatham Street Lad, trained by Mick Winters, is the other Irish-trained contender.

Minella Indo and A Plus Tard (right) after last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup
Minella Indo and A Plus Tard (right) after last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Paul Nicholls, who has won the Betfair Chase on a record six occasions, saddles second-season novice Next Destination.

Waiting Patiently has not won since beating Cue Card in the 2018 Ascot Chase, but Christian Williams has been positive about his well-being ahead of his first start for the yard.

The Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille won the Peter Marsh Chase by 16 lengths over the course and distance last season and returns to Merseyside this weekend.

The field is completed by Clondaw Castle (Tom George) and Imperial Aura (Kim Bailey), with Native River the only withdrawal at the 48-hour final declaration stage.

Williams savouring Betfair Chase challenge with Waiting Patiently

Christian Williams is confident Waiting Patiently can recreate his Grade One form when making his stable debut in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

The 10-year-old was previously campaigned by Malton-based Ruth Jefferson, under whose care he claimed a top-level victory in the 2018 Betfair Ascot Chase and finished second in the 2020 King George VI.

A succession of niggling injuries have left the gelding only lightly raced for his age, with his owner feeling a change of scenery may be of benefit after his pulled-up run in the Bowl Chase at Aintree in April.

Christian Williams is thrilled to have Waiting Patiently in his team this year
Christian Williams is thrilled to have Waiting Patiently in his team this year (Adam Davy/PA)

“We were very lucky to get him, though it is a shame for Ruth,” Williams said.

“The owner came up with the idea that as he doesn’t run very often and at his age, it’d probably do him the world of good to have a change in training. We were just lucky with where we’re situated to get the phone call.”

Williams’ stable is located in Ogmore-By-Sea, a Glamorgan village with access to sand dunes and two rivers – natural facilities the trainer takes full advantage of.

“Ultimately we’ll find out on the weekend,” Williams said of how well Waiting Patiently has settled at his new yard.

“He seems in good form, it took him a few weeks to settle in but we’ve had him a good four months now and we’ve done loads of steady, slow work with him.

“We couldn’t be happier with him. Obviously a day is a long time in racing and we’ve four days to go, but we have our fingers crossed that he can get there at the weekend in good form. Up until now, it couldn’t have gone any better.”

Brian Hughes will maintain his partnership with Waiting Patiently
Brian Hughes will maintain his partnership with Waiting Patiently (Mike Egerton/PA)

Brian Hughes has a long-standing association with the horse having ridden him in 13 of his 16 starts, a partnership that Williams is keen to preserve rather than calling on stable conditional Jack Tudor.

“Jack rides him a lot at home, my brother Nicky and Jack ride him out, but the horse doesn’t run very often,” Williams said.

“He often only runs three or four times a year and if Jack was to ride him, it might take him a run or two to get used to him and half your season is up then.

“Brian knows the horse well, the owner gets on well with Brian and wants to keep him on board which is fine.”

A Plus Tard is a leading fancy for Saturday's contest
A Plus Tard is a leading fancy for Saturday’s contest (PA)

The race looks to be a notably competitive renewal, with Henry de Bromhead’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard set to travel over from Ireland to challenge three-times winner Bristol De Mai.

Williams is relishing the idea of a vintage Betfair Chase and is keen to pitch his runner against horses from the top stables.

“We’re confident, we’ve a spring in our step as we’re having a good run, so we’re looking forward to the weekend,” he said.

“We’re an ambitious team and we’d rather those type of horses were in the race than not.

“We want to take the best on, we don’t want it to be a three or four-runner Betfair Chase, we want it to be a good race, it’s good for the public. We want to win a good Betfair Chase, we don’t want to win a poor one.

“We look forward to taking the big yards on, we try to run our horses regularly and we try to take the big yards on. It’s great to have a runner in a Saturday race, it’s great for the profile of the yard.

“We’ll let him do the talking at the weekend. It’d be brilliant, we’re going along nicely but this a step up.

“We’ve got Potters Corner, Cap Du Nord, Kitty’s Light and he’s a step forward again, it’s great to be in a Grade One and we think we’ve got him in good form.”

Haydock officials all set for high-class weekend feature

Haydock clerk Kirkland Tellwright reported the going as good to soft on Monday ahead of the track’s headline Betfair Chase fixture on Saturday.

The Grade One contest is the first leg of the Betfair Million, a three-race series that offers a £1million prize-money bonus to any horse that can win at Haydock and go on to take the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Kauto Star is the only ever recipient of the prize, a horse whose record of four Betfair Chase victories could be equalled at the weekend by Nigel Twiston-Davies’ ever-popular Bristol De Mai.

Bristol De Mai is set for another Betfair Chase bid
Bristol De Mai is set for another Betfair Chase bid (Mike Egerton/PA)

The grey has won the race on three occasions on ground ranging from heavy to good, with going conditions likely to be somewhere in the middle come Saturday.

“We’ve just gone good to soft, good to places on the hurdle track, the chase track is good to soft,” said Tellwright.

“We’ve had four millimetres of rain over the weekend, I think we’re now not going to get much by way of rain but nor equally is much happening in terms of dry.

“It’s misty with heavy dews, it’s all happening pretty slowly but we’re in a really good place.”

The race looks likely to be a highly-competitive renewal, with Bristol De Mai poised to challenge for a fourth title and Henry de Bromhead’s Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard heading the ante-post market.

Rachel Blackmore and A Plus Tard
Rachel Blackmore and A Plus Tard (Tim Goode/PA)

Ireland have yet to take the trophy home despite fielding a handful of runners since the race’s inception in 2005, and Tellwright is keen to host an overseas challenger in order to further cement the contest’s status as a top-drawer steeplechase.

“There’s no doubt, it is important,” he said.

“If it can be done it establishes the race in that elite band of races that draw in horses from the key constituents.

“We would very much like an Irish runner. Kicking King ran in the first running of it, Beef Or Salmon ran and then we’ve had a few quiet years without an Irish horse, so one would be very welcome.”

“It would be great, but there’s no clerk who’ll count their chickens before they’ve hatched.”

Bristol De Mai seeking to emulate Kauto Star as four-time Betfair winner

Nigel Twiston-Davies has Bristol De Mai perfectly tuned ahead of his bid for a fourth Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

The grey has been a dominant force in the race for the past four seasons, scoring back to back wins in 2017 and 2018 before retaining his title last year following a second-placed finish behind Lostintranslation in 2020.

Haydock is usually Twiston-Davies’ first port of call with the hugely-popular gelding, who has kicked off his campaign in the race for the past three years and will do so again having not been seen since his Grand National run in Aintree.

The trainer reports the horse to have summered well and to be at the peak of fitness ahead of his title defence at the weekend.

Bristol De Mai taking the Betfair Chase in 2020
Bristol De Mai taking the Betfair Chase in 2020 (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He was here in the summer and he’s been very happy,” he said.

“He’s in great form, I couldn’t be happier really.

“He’s easy to get fit, that’s the beauty of him and we’re all primed and ready to go. The one year we were second was the year we really struggled, he had lameness problems and he didn’t get there quite 100 per cent.”

There have been no such setbacks this time around and Twiston-Davies is hoping the 10-year-old’s fitness will prove valuable when he takes on what looks to be a particularly competitive line-up that includes Henry de Bromhead’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard.

“It looks as hot as ever, but the one thing he always has in his favour is that he’s an easy horse to get fit. Will they all be as fit as he is?” he said.

“It’s great for the race and great for all of us, let’s hope we can beat them.”

Bristol De Mai with long-term partner Daryl Jacob
Bristol De Mai with long-term partner Daryl Jacob (Clint Hughes/PA)

Bristol De Mai has a notably solid record at Haydock, with his 2019 defeat in the Betfair Chase his only loss at the track in six runs.

“He likes to be able to boss races and it’s a very uncomplicated track, there are two long straights and easy bends – he can just get out there and do his stuff,” Twiston-Davies explained.

“There’s no races for him at Newbury or places like that but I’m sure he’d be just as good there, he was good around Wetherby. A flat track where he can really boss them seems to suit him.”

Similarly well-suited to him is his jockey Daryl Jacob, who has ridden him in all but two of his 36 career starts, only handing the reins to Twiston-Davies’ son, Sam, on one occasion and to French rider Arnaud Duchene when Bristol De Mai won at Auteuil as a three-year-old.

“One of the only other people to have ridden him is Sam, Daryl knows him like the back of his hand and they love each other,” the trainer said of the partnership.

Daryl Jacob and Bristol De Mai after one of their Betfair Chase victories
Daryl Jacob and Bristol De Mai after one of their Betfair Chase victories (Clint Hughes/PA)

For all those connected to the horse the race is the source of many happy memories, with a record-equalling fourth success in the contest set to leave Bristol De Mai tied with the great Kauto Star, winner of the Betfair Chase in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

“It would just be great, he’ll be remembered forever and maybe there’d be a race named after him,” Twiston-Davies said of the prospect.

“He’s really, really special. We were lucky enough to have him and The New One both going at the same time.

“They were real standard-bearers for the yard and he has been exceptional, he hasn’t quite won the Gold Cup I always wanted but he was third in one.”

The trainer also recalled when he was first shown a glimpse of Bristol De Mai’s potential as a three-year-old in the Grade One Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

“These are special memories, probably my most special memory was his very first run for us at Chepstow, he got deep ground in the three-year-old hurdle and then we really knew we had a very, very exceptional horse and he hasn’t let us down since,” he said.

“He’s a very easy horse to train, he’s keen in how he goes about his work, he loves his work. He lives in the field every day as well and he loves that.

“He is as he looks, he’s a big show off – a happy horse.”

As well as A Plus Tard, opposition to Bristol De Mai could include Imperial Aura (Kim Bailey), Waiting Patiently (Christian Williams), Royale Pagaille (Venetia Williams), Next Destination (Paul Nicholls), Clondaw Castle (Tom George), Native River (Colin Tizzard) and Chatham Street Lad (Mick Winters).