Betfair Chase: Horse-by-horse
Ben Coley provides a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's fascinating Betfair Chase, in which Coneygree and Cue Card are set to clash.
Cue Card is the one to beat at Haydock
All-the-way Gold Cup winner as a novice in 2015, in which his accurate jumping and relentless galloping broke the hearts of rivals. Possibly not the strongest renewal with favourite Silviniaco Conti disappointing but nonetheless a remarkable effort by a horse having just his fourth start over fences. Won sole start since but hock problem means he returns after an absence of just over a year here. Three miles around Haydock represents an ideal test although while soft ground is ideal, he's been beaten on heavy and any fitness issues could well be exposed under such demanding conditions. Must also prove he retains all his old ability which, sadly, is by no means a given. Hard to back with confidence at a price which assumes all is as it should be but on the other hand has scope to improve beyond even the top-class form he's already demonstrated, and reports are positive including on the back of racecourse gallop here. Exciting to see him return.
Won this twice in three attempts, sole failure coming during problematic 2014-15 campaign in which he was beaten a dozen lengths or more in all five starts. Back to his brilliant best last term – arguably better, in fact – and won this seven lengths before brave King George victory which showed once and for all that he does stay and stay. May well have added the Gold Cup had he not fallen when full of running but gained a measure of compensation at Aintree, before understandably feeling the effects at Punchestown when only fourth (4/6 favourite). Defeat on return in Charlie Hall (had won in 2015) raises some doubts as to whether all his ability remains now rising 11 and approaching his 33rd race, but did race with usual zest for much of that contest and was carrying a penalty. Best form puts him ahead of these and both wins in this have come under demanding conditions. Still the one to beat.
Fifth in Gold Cup when would've been a long way behind Cue Card had that rival stood up, before falling when a non-threatening fourth behind same horse at Aintree. Went on to land Punchestown handicap under big weight and while well held on Chepstow return, showed the benefits of that outing when beating Cue Card into third in the Charlie Hall, albeit receiving 4lb. Capable of better aged seven but both runs on heavy have resulted in wide-margin defeats and the relative speed test at Wetherby played much more to his strengths. On good ground, perhaps he could've produced the career-best which will be required; under these conditions, probably not.
Grand old stick ran a mighty race to split Irish Cavalier and Cue Card at Wetherby, going down only narrowly to a rival four years his junior who'd had a prep run. Second in this two years ago represents one of the standout runs of a stellar career which includes Grade One wins at Cheltenham and Aintree. Form of Sandown win in the spring also good – runner-up Valseur Lido is now among the King George favourites – so there is a case to be made if allowed to take his chance on ground which is deteriorating (albeit has won on heavy). Unlikely he can emulate the great Kauto Star and win this aged 11 with a supporting role his best hope, but quite possible he could make for a lucrative forecast option.
Likeable eight-year-old who has won seven of 13 starts, including four over fences. Most recent an impressive defeat of the smart Bristol De Mai at Carlisle, his first start since taking third and proving that stamina is his forte in the Scottish National. Had previously disappointed at Cheltenham when only seventh in the RSA but made uncharacteristic and costly blunder at the first and, on good ground, was never able to properly recover. Testing conditions more his bag and is two from three on heavy, sole defeat coming with excuses such as trip and fitness on return from a break. Win here would be a huge feather in the cap of yard whose small team are in great nick and can't be ruled out despite having around 20lb to find on ratings with the best yet to come.
Won this twice (2012, 2014) and outstayed Cue Card to win 2013 King George in between. Grade One Ascot Chase he won in the spring not much of a contest but at least advertised his well-being and can be easily forgiven failure to get competitive in the Grand National despite racing off what looked an extremely generous mark. Reported to have been primed for return at Down Royal but swatted aside by younger rival there and while usually steps up considerably for seasonal return, manner in which he capitulated in Ireland would be a worry. Beaten by Cue Card when favourite for this last year and had no excuses, so while both have questions to answer his are the more serious. Trainer boasts an excellent record in the race but winning it this year would rank as one of his finest achievements.
Standing dish at Auteuil will be having his first run outside of France and even his best form there – which is now dated – leaves him with a mountain to climb. Only seven and won't mind the ground but yet to win at three miles and virtually impossible to see him pulling off a Snoopy Loopy (33/1 winner in 2008).
No hiding place here with all of the market principals happy forcing the pace. As such it's possible that Coneygree's lack of a run could be his undoing, albeit his accurate, quick jumping will be a huge asset if brought to the party on his first start since last November. Even if he's at his best, the 2015 Gold Cup winner still has to improve to beat CUE CARD if the brilliant Colin Tizzard has his stable star in the form he showed throughout last season. There are concerns on that score following a so-so seasonal return but as he gets older, he could benefit enormously for a run. Certainly, it's worth giving Cue Card the benefit of the doubt and it's easy to see him hacking away on the inside in third or fourth before picking off his rivals for a third win in the race. Seeyouatmidnight rates more of a danger than the figures suggest but Menorah could be the one for the forecast. Again, the race will be run to suit and he's overpriced given that he split Cue Card and Irish Cavalier in the Charlie Hall. Connections are concerned about the ground but he'll handle it better than most and could run on to nab second if this does fall apart.
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