Finally, the jumps are in full swing! Nowhere will that be more obvious than at Haydock Park, as the first Grade 1 of the National Hunt season takes centre stage on Merseyside.
And while the Betfair Chase is undoubtedly the feature, the supporting card isn’t too shabby either.
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Here’s who we see as the three best hopes to bring home the bacon at Haydock.
Running well in behind top novices last year at the highest level, Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old looks a Graded winner in the making.
He was a cosy winner of a 2m4f handicap at Huntingdon last time out, and ran to suggest a step up to 3m is well within his capabilities.
Perhaps more interestingly is that he went up 14lbs in the official ratings for that win, but only has to carry a 5lb penalty here, making him 9lbs well-in.
Shouldering top-weight shouldn’t be a problem, demonstrated when lugging 11-12 to victory both times it has been asked of him.
This race looks competitive, but he could be a classy customer.
I made my thoughts clear on Cue Card earlier in the week, and I stand by them. I really don’t see an alternative bet at the prices than last year’s winner.
He may have been slightly disappointing in the Haldon Gold Cup, but asking him to give plenty of weight to some exciting two-mile chasers over a distance short of his optimum was never going to show him in a good light.
But with trainer Colin Tizzard describing how “all his horses have been improving for a run this season” and how the eight-year-old “is the one to beat”, you have to be confident of a big run here.
Of his opponents, it is likely to come down to the two that finished behind him last year in Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti, to try and prevent a double-up. Both with those two shorter in the betting (at the time of writing) than the selection, there can only be one bet.
Alan King’s charge was probably outclassed in a Grade 3 at Ascot last time out and looks poised to take advantage of a drop in class, as well as a 2lb fall in the weights.
The Barbury Castle handler’s horses are going well at the minute, with 33% of his runners in the past fortnight making the places.
And with a lot of the field in this race having questions to answer, he could be adding another Saturday winner to his season.
His nine-year-old was a winner of a 3m handicap chase at Bangor this time last year in similar conditions, off a 3lb higher mark. But with Tom Bellamy’s 5lb claim accounting for that, he might go well again.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing