HAYDOCK’s Betfair Chase is the biggest race of the jumps season so far.
A fascinating event in its own right but also the first leg of the chasing Triple Crown, with a £1m bonus up for grabs if the winner can go on to land the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Shortly after 3.00 connections of NATIVE RIVER can be the ones, like Del in Only Fools and Horses, dreaming of becoming millionaires – at least until Boxing Day.
The Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old made all to win last season’s Gold Cup, staying on up the famous hill to come home more than four lengths clear of Might Bite.
Stamina is undoubtedly Native River’s strength but the market has surely over-reacted to today’s slightly shorter trip and less testing ground in making Nicky Henderson’s ace hot favourite to reverse that form.
If Richard Johnson can get Native River in his usual bold-jumping rhythm he will be very hard to pass.
HAYDOCK HEAVYWEIGHTS Johnson and De Boinville go head-to-head in classic Betfair Chase
Bristol De Mai won this 12 months ago but the ground was almost unraceable that day and he faces better quality opposition now.
He was comfortably beaten by Might Bite at Aintree in April and is up against it. Clan Des Obeaux was back in third at the Liverpool track and is another with plenty to find.
Thistlecrack looked set to be a superstar two years ago and it is to be hoped he can get back close to his brilliant best but he could not have asked for a more difficult task on his reappearance.
In the 2.25 First Assignment is out again just seven days after his romp at Cheltenham.
He is certainly one to follow in the longer term but after last week’s win trainer Ian Williams was quick to stress that his horse ideally needs time between races.
He is running here as he only has a 5lb penalty in this early-closer and is 8lb ‘well-in’ after being raised 13lb. He is worth opposing and CAPTAIN CATTISTOCK will do for me.
He was a progressive novice last season and shaped well on his reappearance in a muddling race at Chepstow.
He has always threatened to improve once given a stiffer test so it looks significant that Paul Nicholls has found a £100,000 event for his first attempt at three miles.
I spy an eyecatcher…
At Chepstow on Wednesday Solstice Star followed up a recent course-and-distance success in the 3m handicap hurdle but the one to take from the race is probably the third home, Jonjo O’Neill’s DOESYOURDOGBITE.
He travelled well into the race and looked likely to take a hand in the finish until around two out where he understandably weakened on his first race for more than six months against race-fit opposition.
Two seasons ago he notched a hat-trick and raced off a mark of 138 when sent off favourite for Kempton’s Lanzarote Hurdle.
He is now on a mark of 122 and, still only a six-year-old, he can do some damage off that sort of rating. Doesyourdogbite could be worth a nibble next time!
Paisley Park looked good at Aintree but is 7lb higher in a better race, Theo’s Charm has a good placed record at this course and could well add to it without winning and, whilst any Gordon Elliott runner commands respect, Folsom Blue will surely find this too hot.
The 3m handicap chase (3.35) has cut up and given a great opportunity to VINTAGE CLOUDS.
He put up some excellent efforts last season in races like the Scottish National and is a winner at the track. Sue Smith has her horses in good form and this eight-year-old runs well fresh.
It is no secret that Vintage Clouds’ main aim this season is the Grand National but he missed the cut for the great race narrowly in April and is unlikely to get a run this season from his current mark.
He needs to go up in the handicap and there is one simple way to do that – win races!
Braqueur D’Or is the biggest danger but he has gone up in the weights for winning a three-runner race at Taunton and his form is nowhere near as solid as that of Vintage Clouds.
The Graded races at Ascot looked competitive at the five-day stage but are much less so now and the best bet on the card may be in the 2m handicap chase (3.15).
This looks as competitive as should be expected with £125,000 in the pot and CYRNAME can grab the lion’s share of it.
He is well-suited by a strongly-run race on decent ground round on a right-hand track and is well handicapped on the pick of his novice form, when he narrowly failed to give 3lb to the 158-rated Terrefort at Sandown.
Off 150 today Cyrname’s chance is clear. His trainer Paul Nicholls runs two others as well, San Benedeto, who looks harshly treated on his Haldon Gold Cup run and Modus, who does not always look in love with chasing.
One For Billy, who ran out through the tape when giving high-class novice Diakali a good race at Cheltenham last time, looks best of those at double-figure odds.
There is a typically trappy all-weather meeting at Lingfield, set your alarm clock if you want to get there for the 11.45am start!
The best bet on the card may well be John Gosden’s recent acquisition from France, GHAZAWAAT in the 1.25.
She shaped up well on her debut for her new handler when just chinned on the post in a good race at Wolverhampton over today’s seven-furlong trip.
This event is no stronger with Tropics top on official ratings but he has not been in great form and has not tackled this trip since he was a four-year-old – back in 2012!
David O’Meara’s duo, Salateen and Firmament, have claims but are well exposed so Breathless Times may be the biggest threat although he has never raced over this far.