Bristol De Mai romped to victory in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock on Saturday.
The three-mile trip proved well within his compass, as he sauntered clear of the field to record a 22-length success. Otago Trail did his best to make a race of it, but was brushed aside from three out. The winner is undoubtedly at his best in testing ground, and put in an exhibition round of jumping.
Nigel Twiston-Davies said of the impressive winner: “We'd been a bit disappointed with him this season, until today. But he seemed in really good form at home and we were hopeful. We'd had this race planned-out for a bit of time and he's settling better than he used to. He stays, he settles and he's a proper racehorse.”
Of Festival targets the trainer added: “We don't need to make our minds up yet but there are two races for him and it's nice to have options. I'd lean towards the Gold Cup. It looks like he's a stayer now. But whether we are quite of the class of Thistlecrack will be seen to be believed. Jump racing is about dreams, so we can dream at the minute.”
Darryl Jacob was the lucky jockey given the armchair ride, and he was clearly impressed when saying: “He's an accurate jumper and has got scope as well. That was nearly back to one of his best performances. He's a six-year-old so I'm hoping he's going to keep improving. We're still some way off Graded level, but he's an exciting horse and a beautiful one to ride.”
Bristol De Mai had been outpaced on better ground in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last March. Whether connections go Ryanair or the Gold Cup, his chances will be greatly enhanced should the ground turn soft, or even better, heavy. He’s as low as 10s for the Ryanair, but the trainer certainly gave the impression that the Gold Cup was the preferred target. He can still be backed at 20s for the ‘Blue Riband’.
Much of the pre-race chat had centred on the Tizzard trained Alary. He looked a picture in the parade ring, and appeared to warm to the task after a couple of sticky jumps early-doors. But he started to falter turning for home, and Aidan Coleman was quick to pull him up once any chance of placing had gone. Races in France are often run at a more sedate pace, and it’s likely that this British debut came as something of a shock for the young chaser. He’s a gorgeous looking horse, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t improve a ton for the experience.
It proved a successful day for Twiston-Davies, with The New One completing a hat-trick of victories in the Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial. It was yet another gutsy success for the yard’s outstanding hurdler. It appears that the Festival target is still up for debate, with the trainer edging towards another run in the Champion Hurdle, whilst his son Sam would love a crack at the Stayers’. “I think he'd be running around in second gear, and if he had anything left at the last he'd go close,” was the jockey’s assessment.
Sam may well be right. A third or fourth place finish in the Champion Hurdle may satisfy the trainer, but surely it’s worth a crack at the Stayers’. The step-up in trip worked for Solwhit a few years’ back, and it appears that Jess Harrington will be making a similar switch with Jezki.
Arguably the most impressive performance at Haydock came in the Supreme Trial, when Harry Fry’s Neon Wolf demolished a decent looking field. Conditions certainly suited the stoutly bred hurdler, with the emphasis very much on stamina rather than speed. This six-year-old is bred to stay a lot further, and should he head to Cheltenham will surely go for the Neptune or indeed the Albert Bartlett.
He's a tank of a horse, and Fry clearly sees his future over fences. He spoke yesterday of the various options: “He's come out of the race in good order and it was a very exciting performance, not just on the day, but for what it means for the future for him. He's got a lot of options open to him, obviously the Cheltenham novice races and at the same time he's going to be chasing in the autumn. It's a case of doing right by him.”
Fry went on: “The Masterson Family (owners) like Cheltenham and they also like going to Punchestown. He's a big unit of a horse, a tank of a horse really, so he wouldn't want quickish ground.”
The weather will play a vital role in the Cheltenham prospects of both Neon Wolf and Bristol De Mai. Soft, heavy in places may be a necessity if either are to land a valuable prize. For the former, the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle is surely the most likely target. For the latter, a shot at Thistlecrack now looks more than just a dream.