It’s a superb renewal of the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday with the Gold Cup one-two, last year’s 57-length winner, a returning King George hero and a Paul Nicholls-trained up-and-comer banging heads in the first Grade One on these shores this campaign.
The market has decided Might Bite is much the likeliest winner and it’s hard to argue with that, as he has what look like optimum conditions and, though he’s never run at Haydock, a flat, left-handed track on good ground looks ideal.
The vibes from Nicky Henderson’s are strong and you would think he’d have too much speed for Native River in this environment, while Thistlecrack has plenty to prove on his reappearance.
That leaves Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux and I expect both to run well. This is Bristol De Mai’s fortress, he’s three from three here and, though he could’ve done with some rain, I can see him running really well under Daryl Jacob.
Whether he’ll quite have the class of Might Bite is another matter and Clan Des Obeaux has plenty to find on that score as well.
He’s only six, can improve, and I’m sure he’ll be rated higher than the 157 rating he currently holds come the end of the season, but beating Might Bite first time up is a big ask.
Do I want to take on the favourite? Not really. He’s much more straightforward these days and a good win, setting him on the road for the £1million Jockey Club bonus, is a reasonable expectation.
The handicaps on the undercard offer punting opportunities at bigger prices although there is another hot favourite to take on in the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at 2.25 (formerly the Fixed Brush).
First Assignment is a 13/8 chance in this on the back of another easy win at Cheltenham last week, a performance that sees him officially 8lb well-in here under a 5lb penalty.
That explains his short odds, but while we know he’s well-handicapped we don’t know if he can back up quickly as he’s never been asked to do so before and I’m not sure that uncertainty is factored enough into his price.
A very lightly-raced horse with only six starts under Rules to his name, the shortest break First Assignment has had before is 22 days and that was last time, so the races are coming relatively thick and fast for him and it might just catch him out.
Straight after his win at Cheltenham last Saturday Ian Williams admitted he’s ‘not a particularly robust horse’, so while you can’t blame connections for giving in to temptation he does look worth taking on at the prices considering that unknown factor.
The one I’m drawn to at the odds is the continually underestimated BOBO MAC (9/1 General) for Tom Symonds, a horse that won off 126 at 25/1 at Warwick in April before finishing second to Jersey Bean at 33/1 in a Pertemps qualifier at Newbury earlier this month.
That second place came off a mark of 132 and though he has gone up 4lb to a career-high 136 I was really taken with how well he finished his race at Newbury considering market expectations were pretty low.
It was his first run following wind surgery and the procedure looks to have unlocked further improvement, while it wouldn’t be a surprise were he to take another step up here at a track that should suit.
A winner at Warwick, another sharp left-handed circuit, in April, he wore cheekpieces for the first time that day and they are reapplied here, while his last two efforts also suggest he’ll be perfectly fine on the ‘Good’ conditions at the Merseyside track.
He should get a nice run through, too, with Theo’s Charm and Captain Cattistock likely to cut out the running, and if First Assignment is a bit leg weary after recent exploits it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Bobo Mac was the one to pick up the pieces.
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Earlier on there doesn’t look to be anything that particularly stands out at the weights in the Betfair Best Odds On ITV Races Handicap Hurdle at 1.50 with Black Mischief probably the one that might prove to be better than his current mark in time.
However, I wasn’t as confident as other observers that he would’ve gone on and won at Market Rasen last time but for falling at the last and he is a hold-up performer that could probably do with a good, honest, gallop.
That’s not an absolute given here and, given there’s nothing obviously well handicapped, tactics could prove to be vital.
Which brings me to CHTI BALKO at 11/1 (bet365, 10/1 General).
Off a mark of 144 he’s probably got nothing in hand, but he loves Haydock with form figures of 1-4-1-2 here and he could well get the run of the race from a prominent position.
Cliffs Of Dover is a potential pace rival, but he will have to settle better than when he was last seen over hurdles and if he gave Chti Balko a lead into things that would be perfect.
Chti Balko is very straightforward and he’s developed into a really slick hurdler, while he finds plenty for pressure and he handles this sort of ground, even if he is particularly effective in the mud.
I like him stepping up in trip in this race, as he could well use his two-mile speed to great effect and if he gets loose in the straight he could prove tough to reel in at a course he loves.
Finally, there’s good racing at Ascot too and while I don’t want to take on the favourites in the feature races I really like the look of the outsider of the field, GARDEFORT (25/1 General, 1/5 1,2,3,4), in the Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase at 3.15.
This horse is running off a mark only 1lb higher than when he was second in the Grand Annual at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, so he’s at least fairly handicapped and 2m1f around Ascot could bring out the very best in him.
Perfectly fine on better ground judging by that Grand Annual run, the one reason he’s a big price is because he’s been off the track for 378 days.
However, Venetia Williams excels with this sort of horse and the stats back that up.
With horses running off 200-plus day breaks at Ascot in November she has had eight winners from 30 runners at 27 per cent and seven of those victories were in handicaps (7/27 at 26 per cent).
At all tracks in handicaps in November Williams is 13 from 63 at 21 per cent with horses coming off 300-plus day breaks, so she’s got a pretty healthy strike-rate with horses coming off an absence at this time of year and it certainly wouldn’t put me off backing Gardefort in the slightest.
With some bookies going 1/5 the odds four places in this 13-runner contest (Sky Bet, Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power, Betfred, William Hill, Bet Victor, Boylesports and Betway) he warrants an each-way bet at anything 20/1 or better.
Ben Linfoot’s Value Bet aim: The Value Bet is designed to generate long-term profit by searching for overpriced horses in the feature weekend races and at the big Festivals in the UK. Running total: +341.49pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).
Posted at 1700 GMT on 23/11/18.