ALL eyes will be on Haydock tomorrow for the three-mile Betfair Chase (3.05pm), the first Grade One of the National Hunt season. As well as being a brilliant contest in its own right, with a prize fund of £200,000, it serves as a starting point for the top chasers on the road to the Cheltenham Festival and a crack at the Gold Cup.
That will be the ultimate target this season for Long Run who is as short as 7/1 with Coral to win back his crown come March. The Nicky Henderson-trained star was a beaten favourite in this last year, having won the Gold Cup in such devastating fashion the previous March, as Kauto Star claimed an incredible fourth win in the seventh running of the showpiece.
Long Run appeared a shadow of his former self last campaign and his only win in four starts came when he was all out to land the Denman Chase at Newbury – albeit in a track record. I doubt he will be fully wound up for this with bigger targets ahead. He has been priced up as if he retains all his ability which is far from certain with French-breds, who typically start their jumping careers far earlier than their British counterparts.
At 11/8 with Coral he looks worth swerving and laying the Cadoudal gelding on Betfair looks the best option in a tricky race.
Silviniaco Conti is a horse I like a lot and he would have been the selection but for the ground. The surface could be heavy and that won’t see Paul Nicholls’ charge in the best light. If it’s gruelling and he’s struggling we can be sure Ruby Walsh will take it easy on him.
I was interested in Cannington Brook at huge odds early in the week as, even though he has a lot to find at the weights, Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old is two from two at the Lancashire track and will appreciate the ground. Six runners makes him less appealing from an each-way angle but he could still stay on into the frame.
The Giant Bolster is an admirable animal and a small field helps his chances but Cheltenham is where he saves his best for.
Earlier on the card, the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle (2.30pm) is once again a wide open contest. If the expected rain does fall then this could be a real test and it may pay to have those at the foot of the weights on side.
Bottom-weight KATKEAU is making his British debut for the in-form David Pipe yard but still heads the market at 6/1 with Coral and is likely to go off shorter. It’s always tricky trying to evaluate French form but a mark of 124 could wildly underestimate him and he should be in the shake-up.
I can’t resist another French-bred horse making its debut, this time for Venetia Williams. KATENKO lost his way a bit last year but is previously a Grade Three winner, has no problems with this sort of ground and, if he can rediscover his old spark, he could be even better handicapped than the jolly and 16/1 is worth a small each-way play.
The Coral Hurdle (2.45pm) has been won by some smart sorts in recent years, including double Champion Hurdle winner Hardy Eustace. It has another top hurdler in the line-up this year in the shape of dual-Grade One winner OSCAR WHISKY.
Back on the winning trail at Aintree on his last appearance in April, after a gallant effort in trying to dethrone the practically unbeatable Big Bucks in the World Hurdle, Barry Geraghty’s mount is another star of the Henderson yard.
He has won eight of 12 starts over timber and even off top-weight should have too much for the consistent Get Me Out Of Here and Alan King’s Raya Star, who is unbeaten at Ascot in two outings. The rest look out of their depth.
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