One of the most eagerly anticipated meetings of the jump racing season begins today. Haydock plays host to a wonderful two days of high-class action, culminating in the running of the £200,000 Betfair Chase on Saturday afternoon.
The race has only been in existence since 2005, yet has become one of the most prestigious Grade 1 chases of the season. There is little doubt that Kauto Star played a huge role in elevating the status of the race. His four victories, culminating in one of the most celebrated wins in recent times, helped establish the horse as one of the all-time greats. But his participation also raised the profile of the whole November meeting. The Betfair Chase now plays a crucial part in the racing calendar for many staying chasers, as they progress towards a tilt at the Gold Cup in March.
Saturday’s renewal looks to be incredibly competitive and is sure to be another cracker. Cue Card is attempting back to back wins, but arrives after a disappointing seasonal return at Exeter. That was his first outing in over ten months after a Pelvic injury. He should improve for the run, but there has to be a slight doubt over his physical wellbeing. He will have to be at his best to repeat last year’s heroics.
Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti were unable to match Cue Card last November. They are back for another crack at him, and ought to again go close. Paul Nicholls’ King George winner arrives after a prep-run in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, whilst Dynaste, as he did last year, starts his campaign in the race. The three are rightly at the head of the market, but have six strong opponents, all capable of running a huge race.
Menorah, Taquin Du Seuil, Double Ross and Medermit were all ahead of Silviniaco Conti last month at Wetherby. Menorah was particularly impressive, and with the Hobbs team sweeping all before them he has to have a great chance here. However, his form can be patchy, and his only Grade 1 win as a chaser came as a novice at Aintree in 2012. Surprisingly this will be his first run at Haydock, though the track should suit.
Taquin Du Seuil was one of the top novice chasers last season. He has already run twice this winter, and should strip as fit as any. In the Charlie Hall, he appeared to get outpaced down the home straight before staying on again at the finish. The softer ground at Haydock looks sure to suit him, and the addition of Barry Geraghty can only help his chances of success.
This looks to be another huge challenge for Double Ross. He ran well for a long way at Wetherby before seemingly running out of gas. If that was the case, he is unlikely to get Saturday’s trip on more testing ground. He’s entitled to have a shot at this, though it looks a tall order.
Medermit ran encouragingly last time, and looks to be getting back to his old self after all his injury problems. Conditions shouldn’t be a problem, and chances are that the trip will also be within his range. It has to be a worry that he’s without a win since November 2011.
Harry Topper won the Charlie Hall in 2013 and has the raw talent to be competitive in this. He appears at his best on bottomless ground and will appreciate any further rain hitting the North West. Still only a seven-year-old, there’s every chance of further improvement this season. He has looked clumsy over his fences in the past, and a further question is whether he has the gears to win such a competitive race on a relatively sharp track.
Finally, The Giant Bolster arrives for his third attempt at the Betfair Chase. He ran well in 2012 though rather less well in 2013. However, this will be his first try at the race having had a prep-run. Good enough to go close in two Gold Cups, he certainly has the talent to make his presence felt. The worry would be that his record suggests he saves his best for Cheltenham.
It truly is a puzzler of a race. It’s quite a while since the chasing division had such an open look to it. Kauto Star may have brought domination to the sport, but at least you had some idea of who was likely to win the big races. This race more than most, tends to set a pecking order of chasers for the season ahead. Saturday’s winner is likely to become favourite for the King George and take high order in the market for the Gold Cup. The Betfair Chase commands that status.