Betfair Chase

Betfair Chase 

The first Grade 1 chase of the National Hunt season, the Betfair Chase, is almost upon us and is run over three miles at Haydock which takes place on a Saturday and is scheduled to take place each year in November. It is open to horses aged five years or older and has been won by some of the great stayers’ of the modern era with the roll of honour including three-time winner Cue Card, four-time winner Kauto Star, who currently holds the record with the most victories in the race and the gorgeous grey, Bristol De Mai, who has won three of the last four renewals. The race can be recognised as a trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and is leg one of what is now known to be the Triple Crown and any horse who wins this race and then follows up in the King George on Boxing Day will be in line for a £1 million bonus in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. 

Speaking of the latter, Bristol De Mai, who equalled Cue Card’s hat-trick in this race twelve months ago, Nigel Twiston Davies’ superstar will be bidding to become only the second horse to win the race for the fourth time. The ten-year-old was last seen finishing pulled up in the Grand National but there’s no denying connections will have him primed to try and put himself into the history books, especially with his first-time-out record reading an ultra-impressive 1221121. With all due respect, he can’t be dismissed, particularly if the ground turns up on the soft side but the one who appeals most at this stage is the Henry De Bromhead-trained A PLUS TARD (best price 11-4) who fits the mould for this assignment. His connections opted not to run the Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up in the Betway Bowl at Aintree and stated they would wait and aim him at this race instead. 

The seven-year-old established himself as one of the leading stayers’ around last term in which he claimed the Savills Chase over Christmas in thrilling fashion on only his second attempt at three-miles and got to within a length of taking the blue riband prize at the Cheltenham Festival, only finding stablemate Minella Indo too strong in the latter stages. Rachael Blackmore, who had the choice of riding the latter, might have got her decision wrong on the day but her mount ran a blinder to get as close as he did. The left-handed track will play to his strengths and, although he will face stern opposition in the shape of last year’s first and second, as well as Champ, Royal Pagaille, Imperial Aura and Next Destination, it would be quite fitting for him to kick off the season with a triumph in the first Grade 1 event of the season which would set the tone for Henry, Rachael and of course A Plus Tard as both his rider and trainer had a brilliant last campaign. 

The only two caveats I can see for this horse would be the lack of experience at the Lancashire venue as well as his record first-time-out, while dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux will be in search of making it third time lucky in the race having finished second last year. The one I fear most, though, is Next Destination, who was a high-class hurdler when trained by Willie Mullins and looked as good as ever when starting out for Paul Nicholls last term, winning two of his four starts alongside a cracking second to Galvin in the National Hunt Cup at Cheltenham. His stamina and assured jumping will be a major asset to have around this course and, if connections do send him here, he’ll be my each-way choice as I can’t see him out of the frame. However, the decision to bypass Aintree last season for last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up in favour of this event by trainer Henry De Bromhead could pay off. It will certainly prove to be a crucial role in A Plus Tard’s bid to go one better in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and his forecast price at the time of writing is fair in my view with improvement to come. 

A Plus Tard - 1pt @ 11/4

Champion HurdleSee All Odds

Champion Hurdle 

It was no surprise to see Honeysuckle immediately installed as favourite to win a second Champion Hurdle given how impressively she dismantled a top-class field to remain unbeaten when powering clear in this race twelve months ago under Rachael Blackmore and for trainer Henry De Bromhead who went onto win the ‘holy trinity’ at the Cheltenham Festival courtesy of his win in this race, the Champion Chase and, of course, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His star performer has now won seven consecutive Grade 1 events, an achievement that is worth recognition and she’s also a two-time Irish Champion Hurdle winner so plenty of her fans are sure to take a slice of the 3/1 generally available about her but, despite a clutch of positives, I’d be looking for some each way value, particularly with bookmakers offering extra places and the one who has seemingly slipped under the radar is the Willie Mullins-trained HAUT EN COULEURS (best price 33-1). 

A winner of his only start in France in a juvenile hurdle race, Willie Mullins purchased this son of Saint Des Saints who made his debut in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival. It’s not often you see a horse make their respective debut on the biggest stage of them all so it goes to show how highly-regarded this lad is by his masterful trainer and he certainly caught the eye to exceed market expectations and finish third, beaten only three-lengths and demonstrating enormous promise. For a horse with such little inexperience tackling the best of the best in the juvenile division at the first time of asking, he ran a blinder and deserved a lot more credit than he received. 

He travelled powerfully throughout, his jumping was good for a debutant and he looked like winning on the turn for home until just keeping on at the same pace behind the front pair and there was little to disprove his credentials as being one of Willie Mullins’ most promising youngsters. His attention then switched the Punchestown Festival and once again, he ran a cracker to finish a close-up third despite racing keenly throughout. There were many signs of greenness early on, in how he seemingly wanted to go faster than Paul Townend would allow but his assured jumping was evident and he stuck to the task in determined fashion to be beaten under two-lengths, suggesting he’ll be even better the following campaign. There is little more one could ask from a twice-raced prospect, who finished in the frame in both his starts last term at the highest level and he is a very exciting prospect for this season with the possibility of being aimed at the Champion Hurdle. 

Ferny Hollow, who beat Appreciate It in the 2020 Champion Bumper and made Bob Olinger look quite slow in a maiden hurdle at Gowran Park in January, before suffering a season-ending injury, is currently second-favourite. I have always liked him and he would be a huge danger if returning in the same form before his injury. That said, the former, who I hope will become a household name by the end of the season, holds a better chance than his huge odds of 33/1 might suggest though, if connections do decide to go novice chasing with him, the 33/1 on offer for the Arkle Chase is also appealing. I assume he will stay hurdling, however, and given his exquisite pedigree with improvement to come, I cannot resist the available odds about him for the feature race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival as he’s worth an each-way bet at that time of writing against the market leaders with the likelihood of his price diminishing significantly if he makes a winning return to action.

Haut En Couleurs
Champion Hurdle
0.5pts E/W

Marsh Novices Chase 

This half-brother to the top-class Simonsig, DUSART (best price 25-1), who also famously wore the same silks when owned by Ronnie Bartlett, was forced to miss much of last season after his impressive hurdles debut, so it was a fantastic effort to finish third in a Grade One at Aintree’s Grand National meeting. However, going back to his first start under rules, he comfortably got the better of Soaring Glory on hurdles debut as the front pair pulled clear of the remainder and that form couldn’t have worked out any better given the runner-up went onto land the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury before running a blinder to finish fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Due to his setback, we only got to see Dusart on the track one more time last season and that was in the Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree in which he finished an excellent third, beaten only two-lengths at the business end. He was off the bridle a fair way out but stuck to the task nicely despite a few poor jumps on the way around, including at the last, and was actually gaining on that front two with every stride as the post loomed, suggesting he’ll be even better over further. 

The minimum trip was always going to be on the short side for this son of Flemensfirth, and a step up in distance will be right up his street as I see no reason why he wouldn’t stay even further in time which will certainly increase the options available to Nicky Henderson. Even though he couldn’t get the job done when last spotted, due to his inexperience taking on a Cheltenham Festival winner in the shape of Belfast Banter, that could have been a blessing in disguise as he was given an educational test and would have learnt a lot as he showed plenty of battling qualities instead of winning on the bridle in which he wouldn’t have learned a lot. I'd imagine the Grade Two Novice Chase over 2m4f at the Newbury Ladbrokes Chase meeting could be a starting point if he does over fences, while races like the Dipper at Cheltenham and the Scilly Isles at Sandown could be other targets throughout the winter, too. He’s certainly got some big boots to fill if able to follow in the footsteps of his half-brother, whose career was sadly cut short with the world at his feet, but there’s no better man than Nicky Henderson at getting a novice chaser to fulfil their maximum potential and this very smart youngster fits that criteria. I think we'll see him out a fair bit more throughout this season and he looks destined to take high rank as a novice chaser, while the 25/1 about him for the Marsh Novices’ Chase looks attractive. 

Marsh Novices Chase
0.5pts E/W

King GeorgeSee All Odds

King George 

The King George VI Chase is staged at Kempton Park and is run over three miles. It is scheduled to take place on Boxing Day, the 26th of December and can be recognised as the second leg of the triple crown. Amongst the star names to have won the prize include Desert Orchid, One Man, and more recently, Kauto Star, who won the King George a monumental five times. This race has never failed to attract some of greatest staying chasers ever to grace a racecourse and can normally be a guide to the season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

As many of my readers will know, I always try to find value and the one who I quite like is the Willie Mullins-trained ASTERION FORLONGE (best price 20-1) who could be well suited to the flat-track right-handed venue. He was prone to making a lot of mistakes early in his chasing career last season but connections did a wonderful job in getting those regular occurrences ironed out and, in his final start of last term, the seven-year-old produced a top-class staying performance on handicap debut, winning the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase off top-weight by fourteen-lengths in which Bryan Cooper described him as ‘steering job’. His form behind the likes of Chantry House, Monkish and Latest Exhibition earlier in the season could hardly have worked out any better and he could be set for another big campaign, especially when conditions are ideal. He finished third in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last season but I don’t think the track suits him and I think a trip to Kempton Park on Boxing Day would suit him down to the ground and, given the fact he’s actually a good jumper in general, a key asset to have around this venue, he makes plenty of each-way appeal in the feature race over the Christmas period. 

Asterion Forlonge
King George VI Chase
0.5pts E/W

Cheltenham Gold Cup 

Cheltenham Gold Cup & Stayers Hurdle 

I know connections have been talking about going back over hurdles for a potential tilt at the Stayers Hurdle for “unfinished business” but LATEST EXHIBITION (best price 40-1) is surely overpriced for the blue riband event on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival. Willie Mullins’ Monkfish had long been talked of as a future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner but sadly he’s injured so will miss the whole season. That said, the door has been left open for Latest Exhibition to capitalise on that one’s departure with both hands given he’d chased home the latter twice in Grade 1’s last season and, without that rival in the way, we’d be looking at a dual Grade 1 winner over fences and a Grade 1 winner over hurdles having chased home the same rival in the Albert Bartlett the season before. In truth, Paul Nolan’s charge didn’t get the recognition he deserved last season, especially when last seen in which he ran an astonishing race to finish fourth in the Irish Grand National off top-weight where he was conceding over a stone in weight to the first three home. Besides that excellent display to finish as close as he did, his form figures overall read an incredible 21121121222 so he’s practically “Mr Consistent”. He jumps well, stays well, handles Cheltenham, never runs a bad race and has battling qualities, too, so there’s not much not to like about him to be honest. The only reason he’s the price he is for the Gold Cup is based on the comments made by his trainer about possibly going back over hurdles but, either way you look at it, he’s a cracking price for both the Stayers Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup at the time of writing so, although I’m playing him twice in the market for next year’s Cheltenham Festival, he looks great each-way value as his price is sure to shorten for either in due course.

Latest Exhibition  0.5 pts - E/W   25/1
Stayers Hurdle 

Latest Exhibition - 0.5pts e/w @ 40/1

Stayers Hurdle 

Latest Exhibition - 0.5pts e/w @ 25/1