Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake's Big Race Verdict: Bravemansgame can win Betfair Chase with ease

Betfair Ambassador Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake gives his Big Race Verdict on the Betfair Chase

It may be a no-bet race for Kevin Blake but our man is firmly in the Bravemansgame camp as he delivers his big race verdict on the Betfair Chase at Haydock

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Ever since it was first run in 2005, the Betfair Chase at Haydock has been considered one of the first major flashpoints of the season in the staying chase division.

Memories of early renewals of the race come flooding back when one looks at the previous winners, with Kauto Star taking centre stage.

If ever the passage of time has been kind to the career of a horse, it is Kauto Star.

Magnificent Kauto Star

In amongst a long list of magnificent wins, Kauto Star won the Betfair Chase on four occasions with his first win in it coming in 2006 and the last in 2011. However, it is the campaigns the horse went on around those wins that are just remarkable compared to more recent campaigning trends.

Take the first season in which he won the Betfair Chase in 2006. He began that season by defying a mark of 167 in a handicap chase over two-and-a-half miles at Aintree in October. Next, he hammered Beef Of Salmon by 17 lengths in the Betfair Chase. Just two weeks later he dropped right down to two miles to win the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown. He then jumped back up to three miles to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton for the first time (he won it another four times in the years that followed).

With no thoughts of sending him straight to Cheltenham, he dropped back to Grade 2 company to give weight and a beating to all comers in the AON Chase at Newbury. His season of all seasons ended at a crescendo with him winning the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. Magnificent!

For racing followers that are relatively new to National Hunt racing, such a campaign will sound like the stuff of fantasy. Top horses just aren't campaigned anything like that anymore. Yet, this was less than 20 years ago.

Of course, horses like Kauto Star might only come around once in generation, but one fears that if another one of similar ability, versatility and longevity did some around again, modern trends of conservative campaigning will mean that we are unlikely to see them tested like Kauto Star was.

Anyway, enough of the past, what about the future?

A sharper BMG will be suited by Betfair Chase test

This Saturday's renewal of the Betfair Chase at Haydock has attracted just four runners, but it rates as a fascinating contest on paper.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame heads the market at a shade of odds-on and it is easy to see why.

The eight-year-old bounced back from a subdued finish to his novice chase campaign to establish himself as the best staying chaser trained in Britain last season.

A workmanlike return in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby was followed by a career-best win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. While he was left clear by the final-fence exit of L'Homme Presse, he looked in charge at the time which was a testament to him as he had been harried by that rival jumping left into his path for much of the race.

He went on to give Galopin Des Champs a proper race in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival before they both came up a little bit short behind Fastorslow in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Opinions seem divided on Bravemansgame's comeback run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby earlier this month. He was beaten by Gentlemansgame after making an uncharacteristic mistake at the final fence, but I would be very forgiving of it.

Firstly, Gentlemansgame is a very good horse that had race fitness on his side and was in receipt of 6lb. As well as that, Bravemansgame has always taken a notable step forward from first start to second.

I would expect him to be sharper with that run under his belt and the test that the Betfair Chase presents should suit him well. He is one of the very best jumpers of a fence in training and in the absence of a natural front runner, he might well look to make his own running.

Stable form a concern for defending champ

The second favourite is the Dan Skelton-trained Protektorat.

The eight-year-old has a somewhat patchy record that might be explained by the breathing issues highlighted by the fact that he has just had his fourth documented wind surgery. However, when he's good, he's very good.

The best performance of his career came when he won this race by 11 lengths last year, but the underperformance of A Plus Tard rendered that a much less competitive contest than it had looked.

It may well be significant that his best performance in each of the last three seasons has come prior to Christmas, but it is concerning that Dan Skelton doesn't seem to have his string in tip-top form at the minute by his usual standards.

Mind, even if he is in tip-form form for his return to action, all available evidence suggests that Bravemansgame is a better horse than him.

Favourite can put on a show

Of the others, Royale Pagaille has never been up to this level and is likely to float around to try and capitalise on any flops in front of him.

The Grand National winner Corach Rambler had started this campaign as a potential sneaky one for the Gold Cup, but his subdued comeback in a handicap chase has adjusted expectations.

He is entitled to come on from that, but this test doesn't appeal as being likely to play to his strengths. It may not be the end of the world if he gets outpaced, picks up a good cheque and gets dropped a pound or two by the handicapper as he builds towards his bid to defend his Grand National crown.

To conclude, I would expect Bravemansgame to shorten rather than lengthen. Making the running appeals as being the best route to victory for him and it wouldn't surprise if he didn't just win, but put on a show in the process.

Racing... Only Bettor. Watch the latest episode here.

Read Tony Calvin's Saturday ITV Racing Tips here.


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