The Betfair Chase commands top-billing at Haydock on Saturday, with Cue Card attempting to win the prestigious event for the fourth time.
Bristol De Mai looks set to be sent off favourite following his success in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. With ground and track ideal, he certainly looks a major player. Outlander travels over the Irish Sea, and though erratic, is a class act on his day. Good enough to win the Lexus last Christmas, he bounced back to form last time with victory in the JNwine.com Champion Chase. And Tea For Two can’t be dismissed based on his Betway Bowl success at Aintree. He also ran a cracker in last year’s King George and should strip much fitter following his slightly disappointing performance in last month’s Old Roan.
With so few entered and none at a price worth an each-way punt, I’ve decided to look elsewhere for the Friday Preview. For what it’s worth, I’m keeping faith with Cue Card. Despite his age I think he’ll prove too good.
I’ve decided to have a crack at Haydock’s Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle, formerly the Fixed Brush, despite it appearing to be the most open renewals in living memory.
First run in 2005, the roll of honour is a pretty tasty one for a handicap. Halcon Genelardais won in 2006 and a month later romped to victory in the Welsh National. Diamond Harry was an immense talent, and he landed the prize in 2009. A year later he was a thrilling winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup, with the mighty Denman back in third. David Pipe has won the race with a trio of French-bred five-year-olds. The best of these was Dynaste, who went on to become a high-class staying chaser. He came close to landing a Betfair Chase and the King George, whilst in 2014 he was successful in the Ryanair chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Pipe has a similar type in tomorrow’s renewal, with Champers On Ice returning to hurdles after a disappointing term over fences. By French stallion Robin Des Champs, the seven-year-old never took to the larger obstacles, but on his last outing over hurdles was a terrific third in the Albert Bartlett of 2016 behind Unowhatimeanharry. He’s on an attractive handicap mark and is sure to be primed for a strong performance. He does lack gears, though testing conditions should make that less of a factor.
The Worlds End is favourite for the race following an impressive season as a novice. The six-year-old came down at the second-last when mounting a huge challenge in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March. He made amends at Aintree when taking the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. His pedigree suggests he’ll handle conditions, as does his exaggerated knee action. Horses trained by Tom George tend to thrive in testing ground. He was an impressive winner on his only previous visit to Haydock when giving weight and a thrashing to Dan Skelton’s No Hassle Hoff.
The Harry Fry-trained Minella Awards is next best in the betting. The six-year-old ended the last campaign with victory at the Punchestown Festival, battling bravely to defeat No Comment. He’s a big chasing type and a thorough stayer. By Oscar out of a Presenting mare, he appeared to be suited by the better ground in Ireland and that may be a slight concern.
Nick Williams has won two of the last eight and has a fancied contender in the French-bred Le Rocher. A classy juvenile, he lost a season through injury and arguably hasn’t quite progressed as hoped. Nevertheless, he loves testing ground and if coping with this step-up in trip could prove a huge player. He’s by Saint De Saints and ought to thrive at the distance. He’s won five of his 11 starts over hurdles and should be fighting fit after a pipe-opener in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October.
Sam Spinner was ahead of him that day, and the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained five-year-old has plenty of scope for further improvement. Yet to be out of the first two in seven starts under rules, he’s another that needs to cope with this extended trip, though he certainly wasn’t stopping last time. Up 3lbs for the Chepstow run, he looks well treated and must to have a great chance if lasting home.
Gayebury has bits of form that would certainly give him a chance in this. He’ll appreciate both trip and conditions, though was somewhat disappointing on his reappearance when tailed off in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. Evan Williams has put a 5lb claimer onboard which offsets a handicap mark which looks slightly high. Of those at a decent price, he has a chance.
Three Musketeers is an intriguing contender. Dan Skelton’s seven-year-old looked a future star a couple of years back, but when sent over fences his form proved patchy. He showed hints of an improvement at Aintree last time, and an interesting handicap mark, coupled with testing conditions could see him surprising a few.
This is a race that rarely produces a shock winner, and though predictable I’ll be siding with The Worlds End. He has course form and looked to be one of the leading novice hurdlers last term. I’ll also have a few quid on Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers. I’m hoping that soft ground, a generous handicap mark and Bridget Andrews taking a further 3lbs off his back will all play a part in a much-improved display.
Best of luck to those having a punt.