Will A Plus Tard provide Ireland with a first success in the £200,000 Haydock showpiece or will Bristol De Mai rule for a fourth time? Andy Stephens looks at all the angles.
We have grown accustomed to Irish-trained horses plundering many of Britain’s top jumps races but the first Grade One of the season, the Betfair Chase, has proved a notable exception.
Since the £200,000 contest was first run, in 2005, the prize has always stayed at home.
And, if you like your trivia, there have been an aggregate of 99 runners in the 16 renewals with 89 completing; seven pulling up and three unseating. There has yet to be a faller in the race, with the runners negotiating 1733 fences between them!
Will it be another beautiful day for the beautiful grey in the #BetfairChase? Can Bristol De Mai put them to the sword again at @HaydockRaces with incredible jumps like this? 🏇#BetfairDoubleDailyRewards @BetfairRacing— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 19, 2021
Back to the Irish challengers. There have been seven over them over the years, taking part in six renewals.
Kicking King was sent off 4-5 favourite for the first running in 2005 but could finish only third to Kingscliff. Beef Or Salmon was runner-up that day and was placed in the next two renewals, too.
Jim Dreaper’s Notre Pere was a well-fancied 4-1 in 2009 but had to settle for fourth. And since then, there have been only two cross the water – both trained by Gordon Elliott. Roi Du Mee was pulled up at 25-1 in 2013 and Outlander was third in 2017.
Will A Plus Tard break new ground for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore this weekend?
Below is a guide to the seven runners after Next Destination was ruled out on Saturday morning. The race will form part of Racing TV’s coverage on Saturday, when we will also be showing the meetings at Huntingdon and Gowran.
Trainer: Henry de Bromhead Official rating 172 Timeform Rating 188 Betfair odds 6-4
Positives: The official ratings point to last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up having between 6lb and 19lb in hand of his rivals. He’d won the Savills Chase at Leopardstown before that and his CV also includes a defeat of Chacun Pour Soi, over 2m 1f. This has been at the top of his agenda for a while and you cannot imagine fitness being an issue, while he seems versatile regards track configuration and the ground. Also, at just seven, he may not have hit his ceiling.
Negatives: He’s been beaten first time up in each of the past three seasons when sent off 7-4, 5-4 and 1-2. Good ground or quicker would be an unknown - all his races have been on going with the word “soft” in the description – and this will be his first run at Haydock. Rachael Blackmore will also be having her first spin at the track.
Verdict: Has excellent form claims and is the one they all have to beat.
Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies. Rating: 166. Timeform: 180. Odds: 100-30
Positives: Has already shown top-class form to win three renewals of this race (2017, 2018 and 2020) with his only defeat in six outings at Haydock coming when runner-up to Lostintranslation in the 2019 running of this. The track clearly brings out the very best in him and we know he goes well fresh, plus his trainer issued an upbeat bulletin about his wellbeing on Monday. Those who dismissed him as a mudlark had to think again when he won on good ground in 2018, with Native River, Thistlecrack and Clan Des Obeaux the next three home.
Negatives: He is officially rated 6lb inferior to A Plus Tard and, unlike that rival, is not going to be getting any better. Only three of the 16 Betfair Chase winners have been aged 10 or older, and of those only Kauto Star was making his return. In addition, he does seem ideally suited by deep ground with his good going success in this being three years ago.
Verdict: Record here speaks for itself and another bold bid is on the cards.
Trainer: Mick Winters. Rating: 153. Timeform: 169. Odds: 33-1
Positives: He was a dazzling 15-length winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham last season, when he won at the main expense of Midnight Shadow, and subsequently finished fourth in the Marsh Novices’ Chase before easily winning a Grade Three contest at Limerick over this sort of trip. Not at his best on his return back at that venue in the Munster National but, equally, was not given a hard time. Should be sharper this time.
Negatives: His form falls well short of the standard required here and there’s still a suspicion that he’s at his best over shorter, for all that he has won over this trip. He’s not going to be easy to place and perhaps his connections thought there might be an opportunity to pick up some easy prize money. There has been a maximum of six runners in the past six years.
Verdict: It's difficult to see him making much impression.
Trainer: Tom George. Rating: 157. Timeform: 168. Odds: 33-1
Positives: Looks like getting the good ground which brings out the best in him and should be sharper for his comeback run when third in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. Ran well for a long way when a distant runner-up to Clan Des Obeaux in the Betway Bowl in the spring, having previously won a valuable 3m Kempton handicap off a mark of 154. Fluent jumper.
Negatives: Three miles is probably a maximum for him, stamina-wise, and the formbook suggests he’s got plenty to find. That is supported by the view of the handicapper. He's another who won’t be the easiest to place this campaign and I imagine connections are hoping to pick up some crumbs from the top table. There is prize money for all here.
Verdict: This trip looks a maximum and he's up against it.
Trainer: Kim Bailey. Rating: 161. Timeform: 174. Odds: 9-1
David Bass told us more about Imperial Aura after his reappearance win at Carlisle last season
Positives: Capped his novice campaign with a handicap victory at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 143, when he won at the main expense of Galvin (received 1lb). Kept up the good work at the start of last season, winning at Carlisle and Ascot, and there were excuses for his subsequent lapses at Kempton (unseated rider first) and Ryanair Chase (burst a blood vessel). He’s still got unfinished business and promises to stay this far, at least on a decent surface on a flat track such as this.
Negatives: It’s been a year since we saw him at his best and he ended last year under a cloud. Didn’t convince as a thorough stayer as a novice – Pym, no superstar, beat him over 3m 1f on one occasion at Cheltenham – and it could be that he will be at his most effective over shorter. In any case, the official assessor reckons A Plus Tard (a certain stayer) is 11lb superior.
Verdict: The wheels fell off in the second half of last season and a bit to prove here.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Rating: 153. Timeform: 172. Odds: 5-1
Sadly Next Destination is a non runner today @haydockraces . My head lad Clifford Baker was not happy with him this morning having not eaten up overnight leaving us no option but to leave him at home . Hopefuly he will be able to run again soon .— Paul Nicholls OBE (@PFNicholls) November 20, 2021
Positives: He was a two-time Grade One winner over hurdles when trained by Willie Mullins and was hard to fault last season when returning from a lengthy absence. Impressed with his sound jumping technique when winning novice events at Newbury and Warwick before beating all bar Galvin in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. Versatile regards the ground and might well have more to offer this term.
Negatives: He’s the joint lowest-rated horse in the line-up and would be 19lb better off if with A Plus Tard this were a handicap. That may underestimate him a bit but does given an idea of the chunk of improvement he will need to find. It is asking a lot of him to lower the colours of top-notch rivals on what will be only his fourth start over fences and that 920-day absence earlier in his career, due to injury, will always be a niggle. Long-distance events may prove his forte.
Verdict: Non-runner. Ruled out on Saturday morning.
Trainer: Venetia Williams. Rating: 163. Timeform: 177. Odds: 9-1
Venetia Williams spoke to Jess Stafford about Royal Pagaille during an episode of This Racing Life after his latest run
Positives: Was a revelation last season when reeling off successive wins here (twice) and Kempton before finding the Cheltenham Gold Cup a bridge too far, when he made mistakes and hurt himself (watch the interview above). The seven-year-old might well resume his progress this term and his effortless win in the Peter Marsh Chase here in January, off a mark of 156, suggests that, like Bristol De Mai, he may develop into a course specialist. The opposition lacked depth that day but the time was good.
Negatives: His wins last term were gained in testing ground against lesser opposition, with the Gold Cup – against better rivals and quicker going – seeming to reveal chinks in his armour. A Plus Tard finished about 48 lengths in front of him. Victories at this track last year have made this something of a “cup final” for him but connections will be disappointed the mud will not be flying. His jockey, Charlie Deutsch, has said his participation may be a last-minute decision.
Verdict: Hold your bets as he’s not certain to run. Others have stronger credentials.
Trainer: Christian Williams. Rating: 164. Timeform: 177. Odds: 13-2
Positives: Was winning his seventh successive race when landing the Grade One Betfair Ascot Chase early in 2018, at the main expense of Cue Card and Frodon. His sequence of victories also included a defeat of Politologue at this track when the pair were novices. Has since had only seven races but placed in five more Grade One contests over a variety of distances, including first time up last season when chasing home Frodon in. the King George VI Chase. His overall record when fresh is encouraging and has been switched to a burgeoning stable. Seems versatile regards ground.
Negatives: Seems more fragile than most and frustrating that he hasn’t got his head in front for the best part of four years given his obvious ability. He ran poorly when last seen at Aintree in April. The trip is a question mark because he’s yet to win much beyond 2m4f and, while he stayed 3m well enough when second in the King George last year, that renewal favoured speed over stamina. There’s also a suspicion he’s something of a thinker and he’s worn cheekpieces in his past five races.
Verdict: Can go well fresh and in new hands but not easy to win with and the trip is a niggle.
Hardly original, but everything points to A Plus Tard being hard to beat with Bristol De Mai the most likely threat. Waiting Patiently comes with risks attached but makes most appeal of the rest.
1 A PLUS TARD
2 BRISTOL DE MAI
3 WAITING PATIENTLY
4 IMPERIAL AURA
5 ROYAL PAGAILLE
6 CLONDAW CASTLE
7 CHATHAM STREET LAD
Select any odd to add a bet