Betfair Chase Preview: Cue Card can level up Conti series

Cue Card won the Betfair Chase in 2013
Cue Card won the Betfair Chase in 2013

Ben Fearnley from Timeform previews Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock. Please note our competition to win tickets is now closed...

"Silviniaco Conti is a rung above anything Cue Card beat in the Charlie Hall, and has proved as much with remarkable consistency over the last few seasons."

The first thing to note about this year's Betfair Chase is that the turnout is rather disappointing, considering the depth of the staying-chase division this season and the fact that this is the first leg of the newly-minted £1 million Chase Triple Crown. The first four home in last year's renewal, won by Silvinaco Conti, make up the top four on Timeform Ratings for this year. Given what we know about them, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the winner didn't even end up in the Gold Cup come March. Most have either tried and failed before, or else left the impression that it probably wouldn't be worth the effort.

As disappointing as it is that there does not seem to be a lively candidate to emulate Kauto Star in what looks the strongest batch of staying chasers since he and Denman were in their prime, this year's Betfair Chase still might have a story to tell, potentially the definitive clash between previous winners Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card.

It's Cue Card whose story carries the greater weight. He is in his revival season after a dismal 2014/15, and few things capture the imagination in sport more than a comeback, from Jack Nicklaus' sixth Masters, Sir Henry Cecil's golden autumn arriving just in time for Frankel, or, most recently, Sprinter Sacre winning again at Cheltenham. While neither Sprinter Sacre nor Cue Card are guaranteed to scale the heights that they did in the 2012/13 season when they were Timeform's two highest rated chasers in training (albeit separated by 13 lb), they both seem ready to compete again at the top level.

Cue Card hasn't won at Grade 1 level since this race in 2013, watching Don Cossack from a distant second at Aintree being as good as it got last season. He gained his first win in almost two years in last month's Charlie Hall, which though a Grade 2 can't really be regarded as stooping to conquer. He beat a couple of legitimate Grade 1 horses in Dynaste and Ballynagour, admittedly having received a better ride in the circumstances, and put up his best performance since he finished second in the 2013 King George. Cue Card's superb jumping and strong-travelling style was back at Wetherby, and if he is able to build on that, current favourite Silviniaco Conti will need to run up to his very best in order to defend his crown.

Silviniaco Conti is a rung above anything Cue Card beat in the Charlie Hall, and has proved as much with remarkable consistency over the last few seasons. He is a dual winner of this race, the King George and the Aintree Bowl. Flat tracks suit him, Cheltenham doesn't, and but for that fact he might well have already emulated Kauto Star in winning what is now the Triple Crown. A recent spin over hurdles at Kempton will have put him spot on for this, and he will be a top-class test of Cue Card's revival.

Of the others, the Pipe pair of Dynaste - who has placed in the last two runnings of this race - and Ballynagour are entitled to close the gap with Cue Card on that Charlie Hall running, but given the small field size, there is every chance they may be caught out once again by those more prominently positioned. Menorah was back to his old tricks jumping-wise at Wetherby and is hard to recommend, as is Holywell, who saves his best form for the spring.

This year's Betfair Chase feels like a regurgitation in an otherwise fresh division of staying chasers, with the Coneygrees, Vautours, and Don Polis all heading elsewhere for their early-season target. We do at least get to see some old scores settled. Two regulars- who between them have won the last three runnings - may well fight it out, and the revived Cue Card is narrowly preferred at the prices to Silviniaco Conti.

Recommended Bet
Back Cue Card @ 3.9 in the Betfair Chase


We headed down to Ditcheat this week to get Paul Nicholls' thoughts on Silviniaco Conti's chances at Haydock...

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