The Betfair Chase has always been about quality, rather than quantity, and that will be no different on Saturday when four runners will go to post for the £200,000 contest.
That should have some owners gnashing their teeth because it cost £1,000 to enter and therev was prize money down to eighth was on the table. Fifth prize was set to be £5,320 and now the very least that any of Saturday’s runners will collect, provided they complete, is more than £11,000.
Four runners will represent the smallest field to have run, although it is only one less than in three renewals since 2012.
The past ten runnings have been won by a horse representing either Nigel Twiston-Davies (three winners), Colin Tizzard (three winners) or Paul Nicholls (four winners). And that is not going to change because they are the only trainers with runners this weekend.
Which of their horses is the best qualified. Below is a guide and a mark out of 60 for each.
1. BALLYOPTIC (Betfair bet: 14-1)
Form: 6 – the Grade One-winning hurdler had his limits exposed as a novice the season before last and last term was something of a write-off for him. He’s got back on track this term, winning a handicap at Chepstow (off 152) before staying on dourly to land an attritional Charlie Hall Chase. Even so, he’s the lowest-rated of the quarter on official figures and it is surely telling that Elegant Escape, who chased him home at Wetherby when giving 4lb and at a fitness disadvantage, is considered surplus to requirements here by the Tizzards.
The course: 5 – Ballyoptic wants the emphasis on stamina and thet flat, sharp nature of Haydock’s chase course, where the fences come thick and fast is unlikely to be play to his strengths.
Soft ground: 8 – is a bare minimum for him, especially at this level. Heavy ground, or a surface barely raceable, would give him greater chances of springing a surprise. He is 4-4 when encountering heavy going over jumps.
Sam Twiston-Davies told Niall Hannity more about Ballyoptic after his Charlie Hall success
Jumping: 6 – has been better that year, but he has his own way of getting from A to B and has fallen on four occasions (twice over hurdles and twice over the Grand national fences). Will not be able to afford awkward or clumsy leaps on Saturday.
Speed/Stamina: 8 – The 2018 Scottish Grand National runner-up is all about stamina. Whether he will have the necessary speed to mix it with his three rivals must be a doubt.
Fitness: 10 – one area where he has to be awarded maximum marks after successive wins at Chepstow and Wetherby this season.
Overall mark (out of 60): 43
BRISTOL DE MAI (Betfair bet: 6-5 fav)
Form: 10 – the highest-rated runner in the line-up – his official mark is 170 – is seeking a third successive win in this race. His defeat of Native River, Thistlecrack, Clan DesObeaux and Might Bite in last year’s race is the best piece of form on offer. His gallant third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March also sets a high standard for the others to aim at.
Soft ground: 9 – on occasions it has looked a case of the softer the better for him, with his runaway win in the 2017 Betfair Chase achieved on ground that others could not handle. However, he looked equally effective on good ground 12 months ago and his overall form points to him being versatile regards the conditions. Heavy going would have been preferable for him, though, because he copes so well with such a surface.
Our experts study Bristol De Mai's second Betfair Chase win
The course: 10 – bordering on an 11 because four runs at the track have yielded four wins, the first three by a margin of 111 lengths. There’s no doubt this is a “home” game for him.
Jumping: 8 – overall he’s a sound jumper but he can still ignore the odd fence, such as in the King George last year when he crashed out at the ninth. He also followed his Gold Cup third with errors at Aintree.
Speed/Stamina: 10 – definitely has the right blend required for Haydock, which demands both attributes – at least when the mud is not flying. Bristol De Mai is a galloper but whether he truly gets the Gold Cup trip is open to doubt. Perhaps the Ryanair Chase will be his goal at Cheltenham, although it won’t be if he wins this and the King George as a £1 million bonus from the Jockey Club will be all the incentive that connections need to again pursue chasing’s blue riband.
Nigel Twiston-Davies spoke to Nick Lightfoot about his Betfair Chase challengers this week
Fitness: 9 – he has won first time out for the past two seasons but keep in mind that in last year’s Betfair Chase all five runners were making their seasonal reappearances. This time, the grey will be meeting three rivals who have runs under their belts. That could be crucial when it matters most. His trainer toyed with running him in the Charlie Hall, but decided against it.
Overall mark: 56
FRODON (Betfair bet: 13-2)
Form: 10 – his Ryanair Chase victory represents rock-solid form, and before that he had given weight and a beating to his rivals in the Cotswold Chase plus won a Cheltenham handicap off a mark of 164. You cannot quibble with any of that, plus the front-runner’s comeback defeat at Aintree (off 169) can be forgiven as many of the fences were omitted and he was possibly short of peak fitness.
The course: 9 – in his element at Cheltenham, where he has won five times over fences. Haydock could hardly be more different but he does have a win at the track on his CV, albeit over hurdles, and his Old Roan success at Aintree last season offers encouragement that it will not pose a problem.
Soft ground: 8 – seems versatile regards the ground, but I’m docking him a couple of marks because quicker conditions would have made this less of a stamina test (see stamina) and played more to his strengths than his principal rivals. His four wins last term, when he was better than ever, were all achieved on going that had the word “good” in the description. If conditions dry out, it will help him.
Bryony Frost on her "partner in crime", Frodon, after the Ryanair Chase
Jumping: 10 – it’s tempting fate, but Frodon looks like one of those horses who could jump around any course with a blindfold on. He was a little rusty at Aintree last month – made a couple of minor mistakes – but he’s usually economical and measured over his obstacles. His only fall came as a novice three years ago.
Stamina: 9 – usually races over distances of around two-and-a-half miles and there’s no question that sort of trip suits him. He did win over an extended 3m in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January, although the petrol gauge was flickering near the finish and, tellingly, his connections dropped him back in trip at the Festival instead of going for the Gold Cup. Bristol De Mai and Lostintranslation may be stronger stayers.
Fitness: 10 – hard to believe he will not be spot-on for this after having had a spin at Aintree in late October.
Overall mark: 55
LOSTINTRANSLATION (Betfair bet: 11-8)
Form: 9 - had some great tussles with Defi Du Seuil as a novice last season before being upped in trip and handing out a six-length beating to Topofthegame, the RSA Chase winner, at Aintree. He was a smooth victor on his return at Carlisle and it is probably misleading that, officially, he is rated 161 and 9lb inferior to Bristol De Mai. He simply has not had the same opportunities to achieve a higher rating. For what it is worth, Bristol De Mai was rated 154 when beaten in that same Carlisle race on his first start outside novice company, so Lostintranslation is 7lb ahead of him at the same stage of their careers.
The course: 9 – perhaps a more galloping track would be ideal but Aintree is similarly flat/sharp and he operated superbly there in the spring. He has jumped a bit to his left, so he’s going in the right direction. Easy to forgive him a below-par run in a 2m hurdle on bottomless going at Haydock almost two years ago.
Soft ground: 9 – he has shown it to be no issue, although heavy going would be a niggle. Most of his runs have been away from extremes, although there is no firm evidence to suggest quick or very slow ground would be against him.
He makes me "tingle" says Joe Tizzard
Jumping: 10 – a feature of his first seven races over fences has been his bold, athletic leaping. Scrutinise his runs and you will find just one blemish – a blunder three out on his second start over the bigger obstacles. His zestful jumping is undoubtedly one of his key weapons and was a joy to watch at Carlisle last time.
Stamina: 10 – remains unexposed over staying distancese. The Tizzards have been content to keep him mostly over shorter but he relished the step up to 3m1f when beating Topofthegame at Aintree. Far from short of speed but also looks a resolute galloper.
Fitness: 10 – many of the Tizzard horses have needed their comeback runs this term and Robbie Power reported that Lostintranslation blew up two out when winning on his return at Carlisle. That outing, and subsequent workouts, should ensure he is spot-on for this assignment.
Overall mark: 57
1 Lostintranslation (57). 2 Bristol De Mai (56). 3 Frodon (55). 4 Ballyoptic (43).
Take a walk down Memory Lane and watch the past ten renwals of the Betfair Chase
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