David Cleary focuses on the Betfair Chase at Haydock and two top days at Ascot, while our Market Ops team update the big antepost betting news...
"It might be unfair to the winner [Bristol de Mai], but there's a decent chance all three of those that he beat on Saturday will turn the tables at Kempton. At the current odds, Thistlecrack is the one that makes most appeal."
Thistlecrack catches eye as Bristol's on top in Betfair
The Betfair Chase at Haydock could take up the whole of this column, so intriguing was it, and the result and what it means for the future, most immediately for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, is open to pretty wide interpretation.
The race was a proper test on good ground, but, with the field of five all having their first run since the spring, it surely isn't a definitive guide to the merits of the quintet. Fitness will have played its part and there are logical grounds for believing the winner Bristol de Mai would have had an edge there - his stable's methods, his record in past campaigns and the sense that this was a more important race for his season than it was for at least three of the others all point in that direction.
Bristol de Mai is likely to have been trained to the minute in a way that Native River, whose main target for the season is the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, and Thistlecrack, who was having his first start since last December, would not have been.
Native River left the impression he was a little rusty on a track that probably wouldn't play to his strengths; Thistlecrack travelled as if retaining all his ability, and had he jumped with more dash he might well have got a lot closer.
The favourite Might Bite was obviously a let down, but he shaped as if the run was definitely needed. Nothing came to light in tests after the race suggesting a physical problem and he'll be best judged in the King George on the balance of his form. It might be unfair to the winner, but there's a decent chance all three of those that he beat on Saturday will turn the tables at Kempton. At the current odds, Thistlecrack is the one that makes most appeal.
Politologue pleases on Ascot return
There was also a King George contender on show at Ascot, with the dual Grade 1 winner Politologue making a most satisfactory return in the Grade 2 1965 Chase.
Politologue has matured over the last year or so and although he didn't do any more than required after hitting the front, he showed no sign that he might let in the runner-up Charbel. He will need go to Kempton untried at three miles, but he has a pedigree that at least offers hope that he will stay.
Politologue's form is also a little short of the pick of his likely opponents, but he may still have more to offer, this win a good platform on which to build.
Third home Gold Present made an encouraging return after wind surgery, jumping boldly and showing all his old enthusiasm. He is entered in the Grand Sefton next month and has long appealed as an Aintree type, though a repeat bid in the Silver Cup back at Ascot before Christmas would be a good alternative.
Cap on top in rematch
The Ascot Hurdle might have featured Laurina or Samcro, but they stayed at home and instead the race offered a rematch between the Elite Hurdle second and third If The Cap Fits and We Have A Dream.
This wasn't as informative as it might have been, with Rayvin Black setting a stop-start gallop and almost pinching the race. If The Cap Fits didn't seem to be suited by that and though he pulled the race out of the fire late on, he left the impression he'll be seen to better advantage another day.
The same is true of We Have A Dream. He was ridden by Barry Geragthy for the first time and the pair didn't hit it off, We Have A Dream not really settling and jumping much less fluently than usual. It was suggested afterwards that he might be just a handicapper, but he'd be a pretty good one and would be worth keeping on side were he to turn up in the big handicap at the meeting at Ascot before Christmas.
Supreme candidates on show
At Ascot the previous afternoon, close attention should be paid to the introductory hurdle, as it looks a race sure to throw up winners, even though the start was far from satisfactory and the pace was muddling.
Didtheyleaveuoutto has won both his outings over hurdles by a combined margin of under half a length, yet he is clearly one of the most promising novice hurdlers seen in Britain this autumn. He was just that bit more professional than impressive Cheltenham scorer Thomas Darby. The runner-up has a lot of raw ability, as discussed previously, and hopefully it can be further channelled to enable him to win the races he should.
Not surprisingly, both feature in the early Supreme Novices' market.
The imposing Highest Sun, in third, made a promising British debut, having won his only start over hurdles in France last season. Still on the bridle before the last, but clearly giving his rider problems by wanting to go left, he ruined his chance by hanging left once ridden. Highest Sun can win races, but needs to go the other way round.
Further back, both Ratoute Yutty and Rock Steady caught the eye, the pair having forfeited a lot of ground in the ragged start. Ratoute Yutty, like Highest Sun, isn't a novice, but she can make an impact in handicaps, particularly with mares races an option.
A rematch between La Bague Au Roi and Lostintranslation is on the cards at Newbury on Friday, in the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices' Chase, though this has the potential to be a hot race. Theclockisticking made a successful switch to fences at Fakenham, though at odds of 12/1-on against a sole opponent.
Mr Antolini was just denied in a handicap hurdle at Haydock and continues to look competitive off his current mark; Captain Cattistock was set to run below par when he departed late on on the same card.
Whatmore and Global Citizen are among a strong entry for the Gerry Feilden on Saturday, while Thomas Patrick is among 23 still in the Ladbroke Trophy.
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It was built as a clash of the titans and the Betfair Chase certainly lived up to the hype. On his favourite track, Bristol De Mai proved, once again, that he is a high-class Grade 1 chaser.
In beating Might Bite and defending Gold Cup winner Native River, Bristol De Mai caused a big shakeup in the Gold Cup antepost market. Presenting Percy now tops the betting at 6.05/1, Might Bite is out to 9.28/1, while Native River is second favourite trading at 7.26/1. Bristol De Mai can be backed for the blue riband race at 24.023/1.
Politologue kicked off his season in pleasing style with a game win in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot holding off Charbel by ½ length. The Paul Nicholls gelding is now 15.5 for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival jousting for favouritism with the Willie Mullins trained Footpad.
If The Cap Fits cemented his Champion Hurdle credentials when taking the Coral Hurdle, a race that former Champion Hurdlers Faugheen and Annie Power both took en-route to Cheltenham success. The Harry Fry-trained son of Milan is now 27.026/1 for Champion Hurdle glory.
The concluding bumper at Ascot could have thrown up a potentially smart horse with Hazzaar making a taking debut. He is 34.033/1 for the Champion Bumper where Malone Road (5.59/2) remains at the top of the market.