Betfair Chase: Cue the celebrations at Haydock

Colin Tizzard's Cue Card represents some value

Timeform's Matt Gardner takes a look at what is shaping up to be an outstanding renewal of the Betfair Chase...

"Ultimately, through all of the hype and hysteria, there is a question of value as well as talent, and the one that appears to possess both in equal measure is Cue Card..."

The eminently-frustrating trend with the National Hunt season is that the stars of the game very rarely clash prior to the putative Mecca that is the Cheltenham Festival, something which is very much in contrast with the Flat season. This year for example we had a running battle between the top male three-year-olds, namely Dawn Approach and Toronado, and in the recent past we've witnessed tussles such as Goldikova versus Paco Boy, Sea The Stars versus Fame And Glory and, of course, Excelebration repeatedly banging his head against a Frankel-shaped brick wall. 

Happily that looks set to change this weekend, as were you to substitute the words "Betfair Chase" for "Cheltenham Gold Cup" people might struggle to notice such is the quality of the provisional line-up. In fact, the only pretenders to the Cheltenham crown that we are really missing at Haydock are Sir des Champs and Al Ferof, and probably First Lieutenant, but in an environment where connections typically shy away from sending their stable stars into battle before March then this make for the most refreshing of changes.

Like all things good unfortunately there is a catch, and this is the most ponderous of catches as it will dictate where you eventually make your investment in the race. The thing with the Gold Cup is that we know that each horse will be primed to run for its life, but the Betfair Chase takes place in November, fully four months before what will ultimately be the leading contenders' target for this season, so we are also forced to weigh up just how forward the starters are likely to be.

Cue Card, Tidal Bay and Long Run have all been sighted on a racecourse already this season, whilst Bobs Worth, Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste have not. You can see the conundrum, and it is going to take a certain amount of guesswork and speculation in order to solve it.

The first question that must be asked is where will Bobs Worth run this season; what shape will his campaign take? He started off in the Hennessy Gold Cup last year before skipping an intended run in the Argento Chase and then heading to Cheltenham, and it's suspected that connections will have a similar plan in mind, with this race taking the place of Newbury. 

With such a light campaign in store the feeling is that Bobs Worth will be ready to do himself justice here, as he has plenty of time in which to recover before January, and connections will be keen for him to go through the season unbeaten. This year the Betfair Chase will take place on the more galloping Flat course over three miles and a furlong, rather than the customary three miles on the tighter chase track, a circumstance which will be very much in his favour, and it is easy to see just why he occupies the position at the head of the market.

The second question that comes to mind is slightly more difficult to answer: how close would Silviniaco Conti have got to Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup but for falling at the third last? It's an incredibly tough one to call as he has stamina to conclusively prove for the three and a quarter mile trip, but had yet to be asked for his effort; what we can say is that we're fairly certain he wouldn't have beaten him, such was Bobs Worth's surge to the line, but would probably have challenged Sir des Champs for second.

Silviniaco Conti is clearly at home here, impressive when beating Long Run in this event 12 months ago, and there is every chance that he could improve his form slightly this season, but the feeling is that 3.55 is just on the tight side for a horse that has a couple ahead of him on the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings.

One of those to be rated superior to Silviniaco Conti is Cue Card, who appears to have found his niche as a bold-jumping front-runner. Bizarrely, connections changed tactics in last year's King George and it failed to pay off, with Cue Card making uncharacteristic early jumping errors, but he was right back to his top-class best when winning the Ryanair Chase and following Sprinter Sacre home in the Melling Chase. 

It may pay to forget Cue Card's reappearance in the Haldon Gold Cup, a race he had won 12 months previously from a 15 lb lower mark, as he had much more on his plate than the market indicated dropped in trip, and a blunder at the fourth perhaps took its toll later in the contest. For all that he's done the majority of his racing at shorter, Cue Card is bred to stay this far and will hopefully make a better fist of it than on Boxing Day last season. 

It's easy to make a case for the reformed rake Tidal Bay, who was second to Bobs Worth in the Hennessy last year and gained his first win at the top level since his novice days in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. We know that he has returned in good form this season, evidenced by his success in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby earlier this month, but the three-week turnaround is a slight concern given his advancing years.

The pair that I don't want to back are Long Run and Dynaste, with the former blotting his copybook in the Charlie Hall Chase on his return. Excuses have come to light since but it was his jumping that let him down that day, as it has done in the past, and he will need to be foot-perfect if he is to get the better of his rivals here.

The vibes emanating from Pond House about Dynaste, or Grands Crus Mark II as I have perhaps prematurely dubbed him, haven't been especially encouraging of late, with the seven-year-old missing highlighted reappearances in both the West Yorkshire Hurdle and the Paddy Power Gold Cup for rather vague reasons. David Pipe, quoted earlier in the week as saying "Hopefully, all being well, the plan will be to run him in the Betfair" hardly cemented confidence in his flag-bearer, and I'm fairly happy to swerve him for the time being. 

The Betfair Chase; the ersatz Gold Cup; a damn good race: whatever you want to call it we are in for a treat on Saturday. Bobs Worth is arguably the most likely winner, and it's incredibly difficult to locate a chink in his armour, but there is little leeway in the current 3.39/4 and there's a possibility that you could get nearer 4.03/1 on the day as the market looks to take him on. Ultimately, through all of the hype and hysteria, there is a question of value as well as talent, and the one that appears to possess both in equal measure is Cue Card, who should prove once and for all whether his future career can encompass races at this trip or not. 

Back Cue Card @ 10.09/1 in the Betfair Chase

Click HERE to listen to Matt's Betfair Chase preview podcast

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