In what is expected to be a fantastic renewal of the Betfair Chase at Haydock, Kevin Blake analyses the main protagonists and believes last year's winner will repeat his success...
"It is far from a simple task for him, but I believe he has all the potential to prove to be the best staying chaser in training."
- Kevin Blake on Lostintranslation
Right from the very first running of the race in 2005, the Betfair Chase quickly became established as one of the most important staying chases in the pre-Christmas schedule in Britain and Ireland. As well as proving to be an informative early guide to what's what in the division, it has also provided some truly epic moments and performances.
Kauto Star will forever be associated with the race after winning it four times, with his fourth win in the race in 2011 being one of the most memorable days in the last decade of National Hunt racing. However, other winners such as Silviniaco Conti, Imperial Commander and Cue Card have provided their own memorable moments.
This year's race will heavily feature the winners of the last three renewals; Bristol De Mai (2017 and 2018) and Lostintranslation (2019), while Clan Des Obeaux is the main candidate to add a new name to the trophy and give trainer Paul Nicholls his seventh victory in the race.
Nicholls extremely bullish about Clan's chance
Clan Des Obeaux isn't always the easiest horse to work out, but one thing that has become crystal clear in recent seasons is that when he's good, he is top class. He has won the last two renewals of the King George VI Chase at Kempton and while one can perhaps poke holes at the form of both those contests given the underperformance of his main rivals, that isn't his fault and he very much produced the goods on the day.
The main concern with regard to his chance in the Betfair Chase on Saturday is that he has shown a tendency to need his first run of the season. He finished a well-held fourth to Bristol De Mai in this race in 2018 and was just too gassy and fresh when second to Road To Respect in the Champion Chase at Down Royal last year.
That said, it is very interesting to note that Paul Nicholls has been very bullish that Clan Des Obeaux is fit and fancied in his weekend column.
If Nicholls is right and he produces the sort of form he showed in the last two renewals of the King George VI Chase, that will set a high bar for his two main rivals to come up to.
Last year's first two home do battle again
It's hard to believe that Bristol De Mai is still only a nine-year-old as he has been ever-present on the big-race scene since making a winning British debut in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow almost six years ago.
For all his many achievements over the years, his most notable days have perhaps come at Haydock where he has won four of his five outings including two renewals of this race. Both of those wins were very significant for different reasons, with his first being a scarcely-believable 57-length shellacking of the three-time Betfair Chase winner Cue Card and his second seeing him beat the Gold Cup winner Native River by four lengths.
Bristol De Mai's unbeaten record at Haydock came to an end in this race last year and it was Lostintranslation that got the better of him. On what was his eighth start over fences and his first in an open Grade 1 chase, Lostintranslation produced a performance that day that enthralled many that witnessed it, very much including this observer.
His jumping was a genuine joy to behold. He produced the most wonderful display of neat and efficient leaps, showing the athleticism to cope with any scenario that was presented to him at his fences. He also seemed particularly well suited by the switch to more restrained tactics that were utilised that day. He had made the running in five of his seven starts over fences to that point, but the quieter ride seemed to bring out the best from him.
The sheer strength with which he was travelling and jumping resulted in him getting into a challenging position quite a bit earlier than Robbie Power had planned. This led to him fiddling over the final two fences and idling all the way up the run-in, yet he still had plenty in hand of Bristol De Mai.
It was performance that stamped him as one of the most talented and exciting staying chasers in training, but his season came off the rails just a few weeks later when a very poor effort in the King George VI Chase led to the diagnosis of a breathing issue that was addressed via surgery.
Gold Cup performance can be upgraded
One suspects that it was something of a rush for the Tizzard's to get him back for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, but he duly made the race and went a long way to showing that what he did at Haydock was far from a one-off in finishing 1½ lengths third to Al Boum Photo.
Indeed, the bare form doesn't do Lostintranslation justice. The 11-week gap between the King George and the Gold Cup combined with his rushed preparation seemed to result in him being too fresh at Cheltenham. He has always been an enthusiastic traveller in his races, but he was notably free in Power's hands for an awful long way in the Gold Cup. His jumping was just as good as it had been at Haydock and he looked the likely winner for quite some time until running out of steam close home.
There are a number of possibilities to potentially explain that late weakness on the run-in. It could have been indicative of him paying the price for his early exertions, a lack of race fitness taking its toll, his stamina running out over what was the longer trip he had tackled or perhaps he just wasn't quite good enough on the day. They are all viable possibilities. Though, it must also be remembered that the Tizzard's had a notably disappointing week at the Cheltenham Festival and whatever was ailing their team might well have told on Lostintranslation too.
Whatever conclusion one wishes to draw, even if it is taken purely at face value, Lostintranslation's run in the Gold Cup proved that he is right at the very top end of the staying chase division.
His connections will be hoping for a clearer run with him this season and the Betfair Chase at Haydock will be his starting point. It is far from a simple task for him, but I believe he has all the potential to prove to be the best staying chaser in training.
Claim Your Free £5 Betfair Chase Bet
Betfair is giving customers a free £5 bet to use on the Betfair Exchange on this Saturday's Betfair Chase. T&Cs apply. More details here.