The Betfair Chase at Haydock Park is now established as the third most important steeplechase of the season after the King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup. This year’s field reflects that status as the first three horses in the betting are also prominent in the betting for the Gold Cup. Cue Card is the favourite for Saturday’s race and is also the market leader in some lists for the Blue Riband of chasing at Cheltenham next March.
Menorah will attract plenty of interest as the horse is ridden and trained by a combination that had six winners at the Open meeting at Cheltenham. Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs dominated proceedings over three days that attracted festival type crowds to the course. Paul Nicholls won the signature Paddy Power Gold Cup with Caid Du Berlais but Johnson and Hobbs won just about everything else.
In any other era Johnson would be seen as the best jockey of his generation. However he has the misfortune to be riding at his best during the Tony McCoy years. The Champ is sidelined due to injury and aged 40 he takes longer than in the past to recover from falls. However he will win his 20th title this season on and looks to have 5,000 winners within his compass. He may then retire but Johnson is also reaching the end of his career and Sam Twiston-Davies could be the next champion.
Twiston-Davies is the stable jockey at Nicholls’s stable. He gave his boss’s horse a brilliant ride in the Paddy Power and was excellent on Sam Winner earlier in the day. Nicholls sees him as an investment for the future but his backing is already seeing results in a perfect scenario for the jockey. Nicholls no longer has the superstars of old in his stable but is building a new team so Twiston-Davies will get plenty of rides in the big Saturday televised races.
In the context of the Nicholls’s operation Twiston-Davies could be described as the new one which is very appropriate. In signing the deal the jockey was allowed to keep the ride on The New One, arguably the best horse his father has trained. The New One is prominent in the betting for the Champions Hurdle, a race he could have won last season but for being hampered when the sadly departed Our Conor fell.
Jezki won that race and beat the two times champion Hurricane Fly comfortably. However, that horse is back in the Champion Hurdle picture after beating Jezki at Punchestown and recording a 20th Grade 1 race win. The waters are muddied somewhat by the status of three hurdlers trained by Willie Mullins in the top five in the betting for the Champion. However, Vantour and Annie Power may have different targets at the festival and Faugheen looks likely to be representing the stable.
The Tuesday of Cheltenham has been voted the best day’s racing of the year but for many the Gold Cup three days later is the highlight of the meeting. Last season’s race was strange in that Silviniaco Conti jumped the last in front and wasn’t even placed. Lord Windermere outstayed that horse and others on the opposite side of the track and took advantage of how the race panned out for Bobs Worth.
Cue Card missed the race through injury but it was at Haydock a year ago that the horse emerged as a genuine Gold Cup contender. Doubts about staying the trip were addressed in the Betfair Chase of 2013 but questions were again asked after Cue Card failed to get home in the King George. Silviniaco Conti won that race and again at Aintree but was quite disappointing when reappearing for the new season at Wetherby at the start of November.
Dynaste was second to Cue Card in last year’s Betfair Chase and won at Cheltenham last season in a Grade 1 race. The horse seemed destined for the very top when winning a Grade 1 novice chase at the Kempton Christmas meeting in 2012. He disappointed at the festival that year but looked back to his best in March. He was subsequently beaten at Aintree but conditions should suit him at Haydock Park in the Betfair sponsored race.
Menorah will only run on Saturday if the ground is good or good to soft but it the going was forecast as heavy he would wait for the King George on Boxing Day. Despite plenty of rain the Haydock meeting will begin on Friday on ground no worse than soft. In such great form it is difficult to disregard Johnson and Hobbs so Menorah is tipped to win the race.