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Adrimel draws Haydock applause with gutsy success

Adrimel continued the impressive start to his career at Haydock in the Listen To Weighed-In On Betfair “Introductory” Hurdle – but he was made to work hard for it.

Trained by Tom Lacey, the five-year-old was winning for the fourth time under Rules from just five runs, with his sole defeat coming in the Champion Bumper.

Sent off the 8-11 favourite under Richard Johnson, he had to be kept up to his work for the whole length of the Haydock straight, but with Ranch Hand and Qualismart disappointing, it was 33-1 Grumpy Charley who kept him honest.

However, Adrimel was almost five lengths clear at the line.

“I was very nervous beforehand as I wasn’t sure Haydock was his track, but when it rained in the morning, it made my mind up and it was the right race for him,” said Lacey.

“He doesn’t have to have it deep, but he handles it very well. He was never going better than he was at the line.

“The way he finished, one would think he wants a step up in trip, but if the Tolworth came up very deep ground he might get away with it and we could think about fitting cheekpieces just to help him concentrate, not because he’s ungenuine.

“There is also the Leamington Spa at Warwick he could go in, so there are options, but he’s a lovely horse to have and I’m very lucky to have him.

“Hurdles are an inconvenience to him, hopefully he’ll be a nice chaser.”

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Elsewhere on the card, Venetia Williams was on the mark with Royale Pagaille in the four-runner Back And Lay On The Betfair Exchange Novices’ Chase.

Sent off the 11-1 outsider under Charlie Deutsch, he jumped impeccably until the final two fences, but he still had enough left to see off 6-5 favourite Espoir De Romay, who was conceding 5lb, by seven lengths.

Late Romantic lived up to his name in the My Odds Boost On Betfair Veterans’ Handicap Chase.

Tristan Davidson’s 2018 Peter Marsh winner The Dutchman appeared to have done everything right, only to be caught in the dying strides by Ollie Greenall’s 10-1 chance.

The race was marred by a fatal injury to the 12-year-old Whisper, winner of the 2014 Coral Cup for Nicky Henderson as well as the Liverpool Hurdle twice.

The card was one of four on Wednesday that were among the first sporting events to welcome back limited crowds.

Ben Bramley travelled from North Yorkshire to Haydock and was pleasantly surprised by what greeted him.

Since June 1, aside from two pilot events in September, courses have only been attended by key personnel.

“I don’t think they sold 1,000 tickets, which surprised me, but it’s a really good set-up, a lot less restrictive than what I thought it would be having been to a couple of other courses as an owner,” he said.

“We’re effectively in the same zone as the owners, so the entire left-hand side of the paddock is accessible with good views – all the walkway from where the bookies are to the paddock is accessible.

“All the bars are open, although not selling alcohol. However, I expected a few to have the shutters down and a few buildings closed, but pretty much all buildings are open so it doesn’t feel like you are somewhere you shouldn’t be.

“The signage is very clear, it’s one way up and one way down stairs, it’s really impressive. They’ve made us feel really welcome.

“The whole process has been very straightforward from booking the tickets, getting the QR code – they’ve all been really helpful, quick and slick. We’ve had far more freedom than I anticipated. There are regular reminders over the PA about social distancing which you would expect.

There were a lot more people on track at Haydock than for Sprint Cup day in September
There were a lot more people on track at Haydock than for Sprint Cup day in September (PA Wire)

“There are four bookies on the rails and 10 in Tatts. There might not even be that many at a normal midweek meeting. There’s no segregation, so you’ve basically got Premier Stand access.

“I wasn’t sure if there’d be a big roar at the off for the first race, but it was more of a ripple! And given the first race was basically over with a circuit to run, there wasn’t much of a cheer for the winner either, but you can’t do much about that.

“There’s a quiet, sporting crowd, but there’s plenty of staff working and it’s been a really positive day. I didn’t think I’d get a ticket to be honest, but because those in Tier 3 like Manchester can’t go, that probably had an impact.

“The only surprise to me was not seeing anyone have their temperatures taken, but you did have to fill in an online Covid questionnaire to get a ticket, so they were trusting people.”

Tracks poised for return of racegoers on Wednesday

Racecourses are ready to welcome spectators back on track, albeit with limited numbers, on Wednesday.

Hundreds of punters will be allowed through the turnstiles at Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow for the first time since the end of March – barring two pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in September – after the Government announced limited crowds would be permitted under the post-lockdown restrictions.

Outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas are allowed to admit spectators after the end of the national lockdown in England on Wednesday, with up to 4,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity limits – whichever is lowest – in place in Tier 1, dropping to 2,000, or 50 per cent capacity, in Tier 2. No crowds are permitted in Tier 3 areas.

Ludlow, Lingfield, Haydock and Kempton all fall under Tier 2 restrictions and can get racing on the way back to some kind of normality.

Haydock will be among the first tracks to welcome back racegoers
Haydock will be among the first tracks to welcome back racegoers (David Davies/PA)

Haydock and Kempton come under the Jockey Club Racecourses banner.

They have made the maximum number of tickets available between annual members, owners and general admission.

Nevin Truesdale, group chief executive of the Jockey Club, said: “Aside from our successful pilot race day at Warwick, it’s been more than eight months since we’ve been able to welcome spectators on course – and racing fans have been incredibly patient in that time.

“Since the restricted number of tickets went on sale for our race days in Tier 2 areas of the country, we’ve seen a really positive response, including our general admission allocations selling out for this weekend’s feature race days at Sandown Park and Aintree.

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“Last week’s Government announcement that a limited number of spectators will be allowed to return is a great first step on the road to recovery for sport in general.

“But there is no magic switch you flick to ensure your venues are instantly ready, and I’m very proud of all our teams around the country who have been working tirelessly to ensure that racing fans can purchase tickets as smoothly as possible and will then have a safe and enjoyable day out.”

Ludlow are limiting their numbers well below the 2,000 mark at about 650 as they look to find their feet before their Christmas meeting on December 16.

Spectators will be back at Ludlow on Wednesday
Spectators will be back at Ludlow on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)

General manager and clerk of the course Simon Sherwood said: “The phones have been very busy. We’ll probably be up to our maximum allocation as far as numbers are concerned.

“Hopefully we’ll be around the 650 mark, plus essential workers.

“It’ll be good to have people back on the race track. We’ve had to change our zones a little bit.

“It will be nice to have the owners back properly – because they have been restricted up until now – and members who, likewise, have been sitting on the sidelines for a long time. They are obviously our most important people.

“We are very much limiting our numbers, because it is a step in a new direction and we’re using it as a stepping stone to hopefully opening up a bit more for our December meeting.”

Lingfield raced on Tuesday, 24 hours before spectators return
Lingfield raced on Tuesday, 24 hours before spectators return (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Lingfield is preparing for a few hundred patrons as it too looks to future meetings over jumps and on the all-weather.

Mark Spincer, Arena Racing Company’s managing director, said: “We’ll get a few hundred people. We’ll probably be a little busier than would be expected for a normal midweek all-weather fixture.

“We’re not doing any hospitality, only for owners – so we haven’t put any corporate on which would normally be a reasonably good corporate day there – but we decided that before Christmas we’re just going to focus on the owners and the general admissions area.

ARC's Mark Spincer is expecting a busier Wednesday than normal at Lingfield
ARC’s Mark Spincer is expecting a busier Wednesday than normal at Lingfield (David Davies/PA)

“We’ll learn a lot tomorrow, as we have done all along. We’re ready – we’ve got processes and procedures in place. The site is ready.

“We’ve got a lot of fixtures there in the month of December – that’s another factor.

“The team have worked so hard. They were one of the first sites to come back behind closed doors. Any last minute changes and tweaks that get thrown at us, we’ll be ready to deal with accordingly.”

Nicky Henderson has praised the BHA and other parties
Nicky Henderson has praised the BHA and other parties (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Trainers have paid tribute to the British Horseracing Authority and other parties who have ensured racing has had a fair crack of the whip.

Nicky Henderson, who has runners at Haydock and Ludlow, said: “I think the first thing to say is how well the BHA have done to get us this far. To be the first to have crowds attend a sporting event is a great achievement, and something we’re all looking forward to.

“It has been slightly soulless, but it has been fantastic that racing kept going at all, even if it has been under weird circumstances.

“Yes, it’s been soulless – we’ve been quite a lot recently, and it’s been good, but a bit lonely. I think there were 42 people at Cheltenham the other week, but they did it really well and everything has gone well. It will just be nice to see a few different faces – you miss seeing people.”

David Pipe, who has just the one runner at Lingfield, said: “It’s fantastic for the sport. The sport has worked very hard with all the different parties for once working together – and look what we’ve done.

“We had to put it towards the Government, but we’ve done a fantastic job. Everyone has worked extremely hard – and everyone should be praised a lot for it.”

Main Fact may target perfect 10 at Ascot

Main Fact may bid to stretch his remarkable winning streak to double figures in the Grade One Marsh Hurdle at Ascot next month.

A close-up third on his first start for David Pipe at Exeter last December, the seven-year-old has proved unbeatable in 2020 thus far – racking up five successive hurdling wins and a hat-trick on the Flat, before his latest assignment back over jumps at Haydock.

Main Fact faced a significant step up in distance and class in last Saturday’s Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle, but charged home from an uncompromising position to make it nine on the bounce in the Merseyside mud.

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He could now aim to complete his fairytale rise with a Grade One success in a race better known as the Long Walk on December 19.

Pipe said: “He’s come out of the race well, and I think we’ll give him an entry in the Long Walk at Ascot. It closes next week, so we’ll stick him in and see what happens.

“The handicapper has put him up 7lb, so he’s rated 154 now and hasn’t got too many options.

Fergus Gillard splattered with mud after winning aboard Main Fact at Haydock
Fergus Gillard splattered with mud after winning aboard Main Fact at Haydock (David Clough/PA)

“We’ve still got a long way to go to be in the same category as the likes of Paisley Park (rated 167) – but at the same time, everyone involved is living the dream.”

Bought out of Dianne Sayer’s yard for just £6,000 in the spring of 2018, Pipe believes Main Fact is the first horse trained at Pond House – the former base of his father and 15-time champion trainer, Martin – to win nine a row.

He added: “We’ve spoken about it since Saturday and we don’t think we’ve ever had one win nine in a row before. My father had one or two horses win eight, but not nine, so it’s nice to beat him at something!

“I’m not sure how I managed to get him beaten off 98 at Exeter last year! It reminds me of Celestial Gold, who won the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the Hennessy (in 2004) – I managed to get him beaten in a point-to-point before he won his next three!

“When we bought him (Main Fact) we thought he’d be a good, fun horse for a syndicate – and the price was right. He had some form in the book and was bred by Juddmonte.

“We obviously never dreamed he was going to do this. It’s great for everyone involved and great for racing, as it shows everyone has a chance.”

King George remains on the agenda for Lostintranslation

The Ladbrokes King George VI Chase remains the next objective for Lostintranslation following his disappointing defence of his crown in the Betfair Chase.

Colin Tizzard’s stable star got the better of the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai to claim top honours at Haydock last year.

He subsequently failed to fire in the King George, but having bounced back to finish a close-up third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, the eight-year-old was the narrow favourite on his return to Merseyside for his seasonal reappearance.

However, with conditions much more testing than 12 months earlier, Robbie Power was sending out distress signals a long way from home and Lostintranslation ended up being beaten 47 lengths as Bristol De Mai saw off Clan Des Obeaux to seal a third Betfair Chase success.

Speaking on Monday, assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He trotted up fine yesterday morning and has just been on the walker again today – there are no signs of any problems.

“Robbie has maintained for a few years now that he wants good ground. Dad and I thought he’d get away with softer ground a bit because he’s a big, strong horse, but it went completely heavy at Haydock on Saturday and he never travelled like he can.

“We shall make sure there is nothing else, but at the moment we’re just putting it down to the ground.”

Joe Tizzard with Lostintranslation
Joe Tizzard with Lostintranslation (David Davies/PA)

Tizzard confirmed the King George remains on the agenda, as long as the ground on Boxing Day is in his favour.

He added: “The King George is the plan. If it turned up heavy at Kempton we might have to rethink that a little bit, but that is certainly the plan at the moment.

“If the ground was very soft then we’d wait for better ground and the Denman Chase at Newbury (in February) or something.

“At the moment the King George will be his next race and we’ll work it out between now and then.”

Bristol De Mai set for break before Cotswold Chase

Bristol De Mai will not run again before the Cotswold Chase at the end of January after sealing his third Betfair Chase success.

Having claimed Betfair Chase glory in 2017 and 2018, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained grey found Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation a length and a half too strong when bidding for a hat-trick 12 months ago.

But with conditions more demanding on Merseyside this time around, Bristol De Mai emphatically reversed that form to become the second three-time winner after Tizzard’s former star Cue Card, and just one short of Kauto Star’s record-breaking four wins.

Twiston-Davies did not make the trip to Haydock, but said on Monday morning: “He’s come out of the race 100 per cent, no bother at all.

“I was very pleased and delighted with him.”

With connections deciding against entering for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, raised Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick as a possible Boxing Day alternative in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s triumph.

However, Twiston-Davies confirmed he will go straight for the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham before either returning to Prestbury Park for the Gold Cup or heading to Aintree for the Grand National.

“We won’t run him over Christmas – he’ll go for the Cotswold Chase at the end of January. He won’t go for the Rowland Meyrick,” said the Naunton-based trainer.

“We’ll see how he goes in the Cotswold Chase. If he does really well he might go for the Gold Cup, otherwise he’ll go straight to the National.

“He looks as good as ever.”

Bristol De Mai records famous hat-trick in Betfair Chase

Bristol De Mai lifted a third Betfair Chase with a gutsy performance in testing conditions at Haydock.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ popular grey thrives at the Merseyside circuit and had won this Grade One contest in 2017 and 2018, before seeing his hat-trick bid derailed by Lostinstranslation last year.

Bristol De Mai firmly had his revenge on that rival this time, however, as he produced an impressive round of jumping in the hands of Daryl Jacob.

Prominent throughout, Bristol De Mai was in control turning for home as both Clan Des Obeaux and 7-4 favourite Lostintranslation lined up to challenge.

The latter dropped away tamely, leaving Clan Des Obeaux to test Bristol De Mai – but the nine-year-old had plenty in reserve and after clearing the last, he galloped all the way to the line to score by two lengths.

Following his previous Betfair Chase victories, Bristol De Mai went on to tackle the King George VI Chase at Kempton without success, but Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, has a different Boxing Day option in mind this term.

He said: “We specifically didn’t enter him in the King George, so we might have to think what to do next. But we might have to run in a handicap – because what else can you do?

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“There’s the Cotswold Chase, but that’s not until the end of January – it’s a long time waiting until then, so the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby, something like that.

“It’s a shame there hasn’t been a crowd here today. Merseyside really takes to this horse.”

Bristol De Mai was springheeled in the Betfair Chase
Bristol De Mai was springheeled in the Betfair Chase (Mike Egerton/PA)

Jacob said: “He’s a real credit to the whole team.

“It was great – I was looking at the rain (forecast) all week up at Haydock. The heavens opened up a little bit before the first race, and I texted Simon and Isaac to say ‘I’ve never been so happy to ride in the rain’.

“It was ideal to have Bellshill up there. Obviously, getting a little bit older he’s getting a little bit cute, so I needed him up there at times to bring me along again.

“I think this is just the ideal track for him really – flat, left-handed, and he’s always at his best on those.”

Jacob pointed towards a certain race in April as being ideal for Bristol De Mai.

He said: “I’d love to see him in the Grand National.

“His jumping is very good – he’s brave when you need him to be, but as you could see down the back straight there, he was good and clever to pop them. I’d love to have one crack at him – he’s nine now, rising 10, so I suppose if there’s a year that’s going to be his it’s going to be this year.”

Paul Nicholls felt the ground had scuppered Clan Des Obeaux, with his charge having had a hard race ahead of his planned King George defence next month.

Clan Des Obeaux has a King George defence on his agenda
Clan Des Obeaux has a King George defence on his agenda (Steven Paston/PA)

He said: “The rain today didn’t help him at all. On that heavy ground, he didn’t truly get that three-two. Sam (Twiston-Davies) gave him a brilliant ride, but he was beaten by a mud lark and a real true stayer.

“I’m just thinking all the way what might have happened on better ground. He just could have done without all that rain as the ground has gone very heavy. The rain has beat him, but he has run a blinding race. It was an encouraging run for Kempton.

“Cyrname and him have had a role reversal. If you think Cyrname had a really hard race a year ago on this day and Clan has had a real hard race this time.

“He is a tough horse and I’d like to think he will be all right, but he knows he has had a race today. I’m thrilled though and it was a good run.”

Lostintranslation (right) beat Bristol De Mai last year, but disappointed in his defence
Lostintranslation (right) beat Bristol De Mai last year, but disappointed in his defence (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Connections of the Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation also pointed to the ground taking its toll.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He never travelled on that ground. Robbie (Power) said after he jumped the first, he could feel he was hating it.

“Robbie has always said he’s a better horse on better ground and he finished last here in a novice hurdle one day. He did well to get round as he wants a bit more bounce in the ground.”

Magnificent Main Fact makes it nine in a row

Main Fact finished with an admirable flourish to extend his remarkable winning run to nine and lift a thoroughly lucrative prize in the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock.

The seven-year-old has been a revelation since joining David Pipe, being beaten off a mark of 98 in December before winning each of his next eight starts to line up on Merseyside off a 49lb higher rating.

Returning to jumping action for the first time since March after three wins on the level, Fergus Gillard took off a useful 7lb in this ultra-competitive heat and Main Fact was among the market leaders as a 13-2 chance.

His supporters might have been worried with Main Fact back in the pack for much of the race, as Wholestone and Clyne set the pace, but with one hurdle to jump, Gillard had manoeuvred his mount into fourth and produced a perfectly-timed challenge to snatch glory.

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Main Fact powered past his rivals to come home two and three-quarter lengths clear of Third Wind, with Highland Hunter third.

A delighted Pipe was not on Merseyside, but he said from his Pond House base: “He’s a freak of a horse really, isn’t he?

“His relations are graded horses in America, and he’s bred by Juddmonte – and obviously, this was a career-best today.

“The rain came for us, which obviously he loves.

“Not that I could see much on the TV, but Fergus gave him a great ride. They’ve got a great partnership.

“He’s not pretty to watch in his races. But he’s there at the finish – which is the most important thing.”

He went on: “I was thinking the same the thing (not to be today) – but you just hope he’s starting to stay on.

“We weren’t certain to get the three miles – even though it was likely – but he’s got every yard of it, and he’s probably idled when he’s got to the front again.”

On future plans, Pipe said: “I suppose it has to be (graded races now).

“Because of his style of running, soft or heavy ground is probably pretty important – but at the same time, he deserves to go up in grade again. This was a fantastic race, but he probably deserves to go into graded company.

“We’ll stick at this (staying trip) now. He has to improve again, but he’s going to go up into the 150s now, so you have to take him seriously.”

Tommytucker masters Haydock rivals

Master Tommytucker and Sam Twiston-Davies proved a perfect match as they reunited for an impressive victory in the Back And Lay On Betfair Exchange Graduation Chase at Haydock.

Paul Nicholls’ talented but lightly-raced resurgent star has been let down by his jumping several times over fences.

But with Twiston-Davies back on board for the first time since they struck together when Master Tommytucker was making his racecourse debut in a novice hurdle at Exeter in 2018, there was barely a semblance of a mistake on the way to a fine front-running success for the 2-1 favourite.

The Nicholls camp may consider next month’s Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon for the nine-year-old, who won a match race over that course and distance just under two weeks ago.

For Twiston-Davies, though, this success by 15 lengths from another of his old favourites Good Boy Bobby is a case of job done – with thanks to helpful instructions from Master Tommytucker’s regular jockey Harry Cobden.

“He’s got a serious engine – he jumps from fence to fence and does it the hard way on the front,” he said.

“He does relax in front, but he puts other horses under pressure.

“We got into a good rhythm – and Harry Cobden had a really good chat with me (beforehand), and was incredibly helpful.

“He just said he likes to jump by himself, so just leave him to it – because pretty much, when you ask him, he tends to do his own thing.

“So he said, whatever you do, as hard as it can be, just sit and hold his hand all the way round.”

Reflecting on his first association with Master Tommytucker – who earned quotes of 25-1 and 50-1 for the Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup respectively with Betfair – Twiston-Davies added: “That was a long time ago, but it’s nice to get another go on him – and great that it’s gone to plan as well.

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“He rides very smart anyway.”

Charlie Longsdon was earlier delighted with his “dude of a mare” after Snow Leopardess displayed great tenacity to win the Betfair Supports Safer Gambling Week Handicap Chase.

Snow Leopardess, a Listed bumper and Grade Two hurdles winner in her youth, had two years off with injury after an Auteuil success in 2017 and produced a foal by Sir Percy during her sabbatical.

But she showed she has lost none of her appetite for battle on the track, overcoming a serious mistake at the end of the back straight under Brian Hughes to gradually haul in another grey, the front-running Commodore, and hit the front just before the line to win by half-a-length as a well-backed 9-2 joint-favourite.

Longsdon had decided, after two placed runs in useful novice company this season on her only two previous chase starts, that the eight-year-old’s rating of 126 was favourable – and she ensured he was vindicated.

“She has been a really good mare in her time,” said the Oxfordshire trainer.

“She won a Listed bumper at Gowran, and she won a Grade Two at Newbury.

“She got a leg when she won at Auteuil, was off for two years and had a foal and has a yearling on the ground by Sir Percy.

“She’s very, very fragile – and we can’t train her hard at home.”

Nonetheless, Longsdon was always optimistic of a good performance here.

“We knew potentially off 126, it was a nice mark – she was 135 in the past, before she got injured,” he added.

“She loves her jumping, and she stays – and she’s a dude of a mare.

“I think she’ll only improve – and Brian said if she hadn’t made a mistake at the last in the back straight both times, she’d have probably got there easier.

“But I’m delighted with her – a winner on a big day like this is always important for middle-sized yards.”

Longsdon is prepared to aim even higher with her this season too if Snow Leopardess comes out of her victory well.

He said: “We’ll see how she is in the morning – we won’t make any plans (yet), but I know the owner would love to go for the mares’ chase at Cheltenham.

“That is two and a half miles, so we’ll have to make big decisions coming up – otherwise, she’ll have a look at the four-miler (National Hunt Chase).

“The most important thing is keeping her sound now, and we’ll wrap her up in cotton wool.

Llandinabo Lad was a clear-cut winner of the Listed Betfair Weighed In Podcast Newton Novices’ Hurdle for trainer Tom Symonds and jockey Richard Johnson.

The five-year-old remains unbeaten in his two hurdles starts, having finished second in two bumpers last winter and then had a wind operation in July.

He convincingly followed up last month’s Bangor victory, mastering the front-running 7-4 favourite Do Your Job at the last and staying on well to take the opening race in the already rain-softened ground by four and a quarter lengths at 13-2.

Symonds said: “I’m delighted with him, because he was chucked in a bit at the deep end.

“He doesn’t need it soft, but he appears more effective on it.

“The plan was to see where we were today – I’m thinking something like a Tolworth over that stiff two miles at Sandown will suit him, and that’s what we will look at.”

As the rain began to take its toll, the Betfair Racing Only Bettor Handicap Hurdle turned into an eventful and gruelling test – albeit over just two miles three furlongs – and it was Robbie Power who kept out of trouble as Colin Tizzard’s 13-2 shot War Lord stayed on to be an appropriate winner, by a length and a quarter from Umbrigado.

Main Fact out to cap sequence with ninth successive win

Main Fact bids to extend his remarkable winning sequence to nine in the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock.

Since finishing a close-up third on his first start for David Pipe at Exeter in December, the seven-year-old racked up five successive hurdling wins before reverting to the Flat to complete a hat-trick.

He steps up in distance and class for his return to the jumping game in a race his trainer has won three times over the last decade with Grand Crus (2010), Dynaste (2011) and Gevrey Chambertin (2013).

Pipe said: “It’s going to be a lot tougher for him now off a mark of 147, but he’s well and Fergus (Gillard) takes 7lb off.

“We’re trying three miles for the first time. He gives the impression he’ll get it – he’s been winning over two miles on the Flat, which usually means they’ll get three miles over hurdles. That is not always the case, but hopefully it will be on this occasion

“This is a good race to go for, and if he gets the trip he has a chance.”

On bidding for a ninth successive win, Pipe added: “I think dad (Martin Pipe) might have won eight in a row with Indian Jockey (in the 1990s) and I remember Marcel winning a lot of races in a row as well.

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“We might need to go one better!”

Ronan McNally (left) and Paul Townend with The Jam Man after winning the Troytown
Ronan McNally (left) and Paul Townend with The Jam Man after winning the Troytown (PA)

Ronan McNally is hoping his contender The Jam Man can bag his second major prize in the space of a fortnight, following a wide-margin success in the Troytown Chase at Navan.

Irish amateur Maxine O’Sullivan takes over in the saddle from champion jockey Paul Townend, with McNally keen to find out whether his charge is worth a tilt at Grade One glory in the Marsh Hurdle – better known as the Long Walk – at Ascot on December 19.

“He seems in good form. He had a week off after Navan and has done a couple of light canters this week,” said the Armagh-based trainer.

“It’s always a worry coming back so soon, but the race on Saturday ties in nicely if we want to go to Ascot for the Grade One – I could have waited for a race at Newbury next week or a race the week after back at Navan, but I wanted a month between the two races.

“I suppose the race at Haydock will tell us if we’re even good enough to go to Ascot or not – at least we’ll have a few answers.”

The Jam Man is joined on the trip across the Irish Sea by former Champion Bumper winner Relegate.

Now with Colm Murphy, having previously been trained by Willie Mullins, the seven-year-old blew away any cobwebs when fourth in last month’s Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.

Murphy said: “She seems good. I’m hoping the step back up to three miles should really benefit her.

“It was all happening a bit quick for her at Navan over two and a half miles. I think three miles will be more up her alley.

“It’s a nice pot, and we’re hoping she’ll run well.”

Collooney (white cap) in action at Fontwell
Collooney (white cap) in action at Fontwell (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Olly Murphy relies on the JP McManus-owed Collooney after I K Brunel was withdrawn on account of the ground.

Murphy said: “Collooney is in good form, and we’ve been happy with him since winning at Fontwell last time.

“I think a bit of soft ground and stepping up to three miles will suit, and he has an each-way chance.”

Other hopefuls include Fergal O’Brien’s pair of Imperial Alcazar and Ask Dillon, Amy Murphy’s top-weight Kalashnikov and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Wholestone.

Lostintranslation out to retain Betfair title

Colin Tizzard is confident Lostintranslation will put up a staunch defence of his crown in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The eight-year-old denied the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai a third successive victory in Saturday’s Merseyside showpiece when triumphing 12 months ago.

Lostintranslation badly fluffed his lines when well fancied for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but bounced back to finish a close-up third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and renews rivalry with Bristol De Mai this weekend.

Tizzard said: “Lostintranslation is in great form. He is of course the defending champion, and we are looking forward to going back and hopefully winning the race again.”

The Flemensfirth gelding warmed up for last year’s victory with a pipe-opener at Carlisle – and while this time he has been off the track since the blue riband eight months ago, Tizzard is unconcerned.

He added: “He went for an away day, and we were really happy with the way he galloped. He also schooled last Wednesday morning, and I was delighted with what I saw.

“I really couldn’t be happier with him at home. That racecourse gallop will have done him the world of good, and the Betfair Chase can’t come soon enough.”

Bristol De Mai was only ninth in the Gold Cup on his latest appearance, but his regular partner Daryl Jacob expects him to make more of a race of it back at his beloved Haydock – where has won four of his five starts.

Bristol De Mai is bidding for a third Betfair Chase success
Bristol De Mai is bidding for a third Betfair Chase success (Clint Hughes/PA)
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Jacob said: “I can’t wait to ride him. He’s been a wonderful horse for us, and this is another big day for him.

“He seems in really good form at home. I schooled him last week, and it’s all systems go.

“On ratings it’s going to be difficult to beat Lostintranslation and Clan Des Obeaux. But if they get a bit of rain it will suit me, and I’m very excited about riding him – I think he’s going there with a great chance again.”

Clan Des Obeaux was fourth behind Bristol De Mai in the 2018 Betfair Chase before going on to seal the first of his two victories in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The Boxing Day highlight is again top of the eight-year-old’s agenda, but trainer Paul Nicholls is confident he can first make his presence felt this weekend.

He said: “He didn’t run at Haydock last year because he went to Down Royal, but he ran in it two years ago. It was his first time we put him into Grade One company, and he probably wasn’t fully wound up – this time he will be ready.

“He’s a big, strong horse who gallops and stays. His best form probably isn’t left-handed, but he has won at Haydock and loves the track as it is flatter than Cheltenham.

“He is just a proper horse who is probably at his peak now. I can’t explain it, but he just looks like a different horse (this season) – he is more athletic and stronger, and his work has been very good.

“He has schooled nicely and done lots of work. We’ve got him in really good shape this time because there is no point going into a race like this thinking he will need the run – there will be no excuses fitness-wise, as far as I can tell.”

Kauto Star was virtually unstoppable at Haydock
Kauto Star was virtually unstoppable at Haydock (Nigel French/PA)

Victory for Clan Des Obeaux would be a seventh in the race for Nicholls, who struck four times with the mighty Kauto Star and twice with Silviniaco Conti.

He said: “The Betfair Chase has been fantastic, especially with all the memories of Kauto Star.

“In particular, when Kauto Star won for the fourth time it was an amazing day. We felt incredibly lucky – and then along came Silviniaco Conti, who went on to win two Betfair Chases.

“It has been a very good race for us and is a race we really like.”

Bellshill is a multiple Grade One winner
Bellshill is a multiple Grade One winner (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bellshill landed the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown when trained by Willie Mullins, but lost his form last season and would be a surprise winner on his stable debut for Berwickshire-based Sandy Thomson at the age of 10.

“Bellshill is in fine form, and we are looking forward to running,” said Thomson.

“He has been in great form since he came to me and enjoyed a racecourse gallop at Carlisle recently.

“We were delighted with that, and he would not be going to Haydock unless we thought he was going to do himself justice.”

The quintet is completed by Warren Greatrex’s outsider Keeper Hill, who is only runner with the benefit of a recent outing, having finished fourth in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby three weeks ago.

Imperial rule could be the order of the day this weekend

Saturday could provide an afternoon to savour for members of Imperial Racing – with Imperial Aura heading to Ascot and Imperial Alcazar well fancied at Haydock.

No stranger to big-race success – indeed Imperial Commander won the arguably biggest of them all, the Gold Cup, at Cheltenham in 2010 – this weekend has the potential to potentially rank with the syndicate’s best days.

Imperial Aura, trained by Kim Bailey, is already a Cheltenham Festival winner and looked better than ever in the Colin Parker Memorial at Carlisle on his return. He runs in a fascinating Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase, while Imperial Alcazar is among the favourites for the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle.

“With Imperial Aura we are in a position where we are thinking of the Ryanair, and I think we’ve every right to,” said Ian Robinson of Imperial Racing.

“He was very impressive at Carlisle, particularly on that ground as the placed horses would have liked it more.”

Imperial Aura only faces three rivals, but all have shown top-class form.

“It’s an interesting race, we know what Black Corton is, he never runs a bad race, Real Steel was the unheralded horse from the Gold Cup, beaten just over seven lengths and last off the bridle. He’s gone from one top trainer to another. Itchy Feet has probably got development in him as well,” said Robinson.

Imperial Aura and jockey David Bass celebrate at Cheltenham
Imperial Aura and jockey David Bass celebrate at Cheltenham (Simon Cooper/PA)

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“It probably won’t be a blistering pace with only four runners, but our horse does nothing but jump and he’s got an engine.

“We think he does stay three miles, but have decided to stick down the two-four/two-five route this season and he’ll either enhance his Ryanair credentials or he won’t. We’ll know more at 3pm on Saturday.”

Earlier in the season Imperial Aura was among the market leaders for last weekend’s Paddy Power Gold Cup – a race Imperial Commander won for the syndicate.

“Before the Paddy Power people were trying to draw comparisons with Imperial Commander, but he only had to run off 139 – this lad was on 157,” said Robinson.

“The Colin Parker was the right race for him and it’s also close to my heart as I lived in Carlisle for 27 years. In my youth I remember the likes of Ferdy Murphy and Lenny Lungo sending some really nice horses and in fact Nigel Twiston-Davies (Imperial Commander’s trainer), that was where I first spotted him when he came up.

“I didn’t want to go in the Paddy Power off 157 first time out and when it rained on Saturday it made it quite nice to be able to sit back and watch and not wonder what might have been.

“It’s a very competitive race and they are the races you want to be involved in.”

Imperial Alcazar winning at Leicester last season
Imperial Alcazar winning at Leicester last season (David Davies/PA)

At Haydock, the Fergal O’Brien-trained Imperial Alcazar looks to build on a promising season in novice hurdles.

“It’s turned into a big day I suppose,” continued Robinson.

“With Imperial Alcazar we were torn between going over fences or not, or going for this. He wants this trip, he’ll like the course and he won’t mind what the ground is.

“Paddy Brennan is very enthusiastic about the way he’s come out of the summer, but this has really turned into a fascinating race – at least I’d see it like that if we didn’t have a runner! It’s red-hot.

“Who knows what Ronan McNally has left in his locker with The Jam Man, you’ve a horse in Main Fact who has won eight in a row, there are a couple of graded horses at the top (Kalashnikov and Wholestone), Relegate won a Champion Bumper and the winner of the Pitmen’s Derby (Who Dares Wins) as well. And don’t forget Olly Murphy’s horse (Collooney). There’s a lot with chances.

“We know we’ll stay, travel and hopefully he’ll be there at the finish. We certainly think he’s better than a 140-rated horse. Whether he has enough in the tank to beat a field of that type, I don’t know.

“He’s go to step up but we have to make the leap one day, if he’s as good as we think he is this is the right race for him.

Imperial Alcazar was not far behind the smart Protektorat last season
Imperial Alcazar was not far behind the smart Protektorat last season (David Davies/PA)

“If we’d gone chasing he’d be going without any real experience behind him, he’s still quite backward in many ways so this race will do him good whatever happens.”

Unfortunately for Robinson and every other syndicate, the joy of owning a horse at present has been curtailed somewhat due to the pandemic and while he could have gone to one of the meetings, he has given the opportunity to others.

“I’m not going to either, we’re down to two badges a runner and having to run a ballot system. I just think it’s right I step out of the ballot to give everyone a chance so we have four lucky attendees,” he said.

Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai set for Betfair rematch

Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai remain on course for a Haydock rematch after all five horses confirmed for Saturday’s Betfair Chase stood their ground at the declaration stage.

Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation denied the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai a hat-trick in a thrilling renewal of the Grade One contest 12 months ago – and is the narrow favourite to repeat the feat on his first start since finishing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Bristol De Mai could finish only ninth in the blue riband eight months ago, but can be expected to make more of a race of it on his return to Merseyside, where he has won four of his five starts.

Clan Des Obeaux was fourth behind Bristol De Mai in the 2018 Betfair Chase before going on to seal the first of two victories in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The Boxing Day highlight is again top of the eight-year-old’s agenda, although trainer Paul Nicholls has been making bullish noises about his chances on Saturday.

Clan Des Obeaux is bidding to add to the Ditcheat handler’s haul of six Betfair Chase wins – four of those provided by the magnificent Kauto Star.

Clan Des Obeaux represents Paul Nicholls
Clan Des Obeaux represents Paul Nicholls (Steven Paston/PA)

Bellshill landed the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown when trained by Willie Mullins.

However, the son of King’s Theatre lost his form last season and would be a surprise winner on his debut for Berwickshire-based Sandy Thomson at the age of 10.

The quintet is completed by Warren Greatrex’s outsider Keeper Hill, who does at least have the benefit of a recent outing, having finished fourth behind Clan Des Obeaux’s esteemed stable companion Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby three weeks ago.

Murphy eyes Haydock hurdles return for Kalashnikov

Kalashnikov is set to return to the smaller obstacles in the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle.

Amy Murphy’s star has proved himself a very smart performer over fences in the last two seasons, winning a Grade One as a novice at Aintree and finishing second in the Old Roan last year.

His form tailed off in the second half of the campaign, though, when he broke blood vessels, and he faces a step up in trip back over hurdles on Saturday.

Murphy said: “We’re very much planning to run as long as it is not bottomless.

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“He stayed two and a half miles well last year. Obviously he’s had a few issues, so this is very much a starting point for him.

“We’ll just take it as it comes for the rest of the season – if he loves it on Saturday he could stay over hurdles, but the plan is just to get him back on song – fingers crossed we have no more bleeding episodes.

“Prior to those last two runs, he’d never been out of the first two (when completing) and both times he bled.

“We’ve put everything into getting him back. We’ve given him plenty of time, we’ve freshened him up and please God it was something underlying rather than him having an issue.”

There are 24 still in contention for the £80,000 prize, which is no longer run over fixed brush hurdles.

David Pipe’s prolific winner Main Fact is among the market leaders, having lost just once in nine outings for current connections.

His last three wins have come on the Flat, seeing him rise from a mark of 60 to 78 – while his current jumps rating of 147 is 49lb higher than when he joined the yard. Pipe could also run Duc De Beauchene.

Midlands Grand National – Uttoxeter Racecourse
Main Fact arrives on a winning streak (Tim Goode/PA)

There are two possible Irish contenders in Colm Murphy’s Relegate, winner of the 2018 Champion Bumper for Willie Mullins, and The Jam Man – trained in Northern Ireland by Ronan McNally.

The Jam Man was last seen bolting up off a much lower mark over fences in the valuable Troytown Chase at Navan.

Hughie Morrison’s Third Wind, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Wholestone, Royal Ascot winner Who Dares Wins and Fergal O’Brien’s Imperial Alcazar are just a few other potential major contenders in what is sure to be a competitive affair.

Last year’s Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase winner Itchy Feet is among the entries for the Graduation Chase on the card – but he is also entered in a Grade Two at Ascot.

Good Boy Bobby, Master Tommytucker and Windsor Avenue are possible opponents should he run on Merseyside.

Nicholls confident in Clan stamina ahead of Betfair bid

Paul Nicholls is confident Clan Des Obeaux will have no problem getting the trip when he attempts to give the trainer a seventh Betfair Chase success at Haydock.

The eight-year-old will make his seasonal return in the Grade One prize, in which he finished fourth in two years ago, ahead of attempting to defend his Ladbrokes King George VI Chase crown at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Although Clan Des Obeaux is yet to win beyond three miles, the 11-times champion trainer expects him to have enough stamina to see out the extra furlong and a half on Merseyside.

Nicholls said: “He travels well and you could put him anywhere. You would want to reserve a little bit of stamina as it is three miles, one and a half furlongs.

“He has not won over that trip before, but I don’t think it is a problem – you just ride him accordingly and slot him in anywhere.

“Sam (Twiston-Davies) and Harry (Cobden) both said if the King George was three miles, one and a half last year, he would have still won, so I don’t think the trip is an issue.”

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With stable jockey Cobden set to go to Ascot at the weekend, Clan Des Obeaux will be reunited with Twiston-Davies for the first time since the pair won last year’s King George VI Chase.

Nicholls added: “Sam Twiston-Davies came in to ride him this morning as he will ride him on Saturday, as Harry is going to Ascot and if Cyrname gets to Kempton, Harry will ride him.

“He jumped very well this morning. He was very fresh and I was very happy with him.

“Sam won the King George on him last year and it’s easier for him to ride him Saturday, so it works out well like that.”

Nicholls had considered giving Clan Des Obeaux an alternative entry in the Grade Two Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday, but with the ground at Haydock not set to be testing, all roads will lead there.

Nicholls said: “If they had forecast torrents of rain at the end of the week and you ended up with Haydock being very heavy, I was thinking of putting him in at Ascot to cover my options.

“If the going at Haydock is as it is now, he will definitely run there. The forecast looks encouraging and there is no cold weather, so it’s all systems go.”

Lostintranslation is the rival trainer Paul Nicholls fears the most (Anthony Devlin/PA Images)
Lostintranslation is the rival trainer Paul Nicholls fears the most (Anthony Devlin/PA Images)

Assessing the potential opposition, Nicholls believes last year’s winner, and Gold Cup third, Lostintranslation represents the biggest danger to stopping Clan Des Obeaux from adding a third Grade One victory to his CV.

He added: “Lostintranslation looks to be the main one. The Tizzards are running into some form now.

“Though he was disappointing in the King George he won this race very nicely last year and he would probably be the one to beat.

Bristol De Mai is a dual Betfair Chase winner
Bristol De Mai is a dual Betfair Chase winner (Clint Hughes/PA)

“Bristol De Mai has been a fantastic horse over the years and we’ve had some real old battles, but he isn’t getting any younger, although he always runs very well at that track. If he came back to his very best, he is always a danger.

“We’ve set out to try to win this race and not go there as prep to Kempton. He has got a big chance at the weekend.”

Bellshill and Keeper Hill complete the five entries for the race.

Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai set to meet again

Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai are set to meet again in the Betfair Chase at Haydock – for which only a maximum field of five is possible.

There were 10 entries initially, with three taken out before Monday’s confirmations, and Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard and Nicky Henderson’s Santini will also miss Saturday’s contest.

Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation got the better of Bristol De Mai 12 months ago in what turned into a terrific duel in the Haydock straight.

It was a rare reversal at Haydock for Bristol De Mai, who had won the two previous renewals for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

The third top-class contender is Paul Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux, a dual winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

Having failed to see out the Gold Cup trip in March, Boxing Day is once more his main objective this season.

The Sandy Thomson-trained Bellshill, a Grade One winner back in his days with Willie Mullins, and Warren Greatrex’s Keeper Hill complete the list.

The sponsors make last year’s winner their 5-4 favourite.

“It’s shaping up to be a cracking 16th renewal of the iconic race,” said Betfair’s Barry Orr.

“Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai couldn’t be separated in the market last year – but this time around the 2019 winner is clear favourite at 5-4, while the two-time winner Bristol De Mai is 7-4.

“Dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is sure to have plenty of backers – with his trainer Paul Nicholls sounding very positive about his chances – and he looks a bit of value at 3-1.”