Million Pound Race Under Starters Orders
It’s that time of year again – the days are getting shorter, darkness sweeps the country in the early evening and Christmas looms on the horizon. Most importantly however, Jumps’ fans can delight in the fact that the time has come for a few of the sport’s biggest draws to blow off the cobwebs for the first premier race of the season, the Grade One Betfair Chase.
The £200,000 Grade One Chase, run over a gruelling three miles, one furlong and 125 yards with over 19 fences to jump along the way makes it a true test of jumping and staying ability. The race makes up the first leg of the National Hunt Triple Crown which features a £1 Million bonus to any horse who can prevail in the Betfair Chase this weekend, the King George VI at Kempton on Boxing Day and finally the Cheltenham Gold Cup during the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Before these big hitters tee off in the first blockbuster race of the season, we’ve taken a closer look at each of their chances at landing the magnificent treble.
This year marks the first time the Nicky Henderson’s sublime chaser will have a true crack at this, the toughest three part challenge amongst National Hunt racing.
Last year, the electric chaser avoided the Betfair Chase due to ground conditions before winning the King George VI and coming a close second to Colin Tizzard’s Native River in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. With little rain expected prior to racing at Haydock on Saturday it might well be advantage Might Bite. He has always travelled well on good ground and he should like it more than his counterparts.
Henderson had high praise for one his biggest assets stating “He’s been working extremely well – he’s just in very good shape.”
“He’s a spectacular looking horse. He’s getting into the Sprinter Sacre mould of quality and class. He looks that way, he just looks really good.”
Tizzard’s top horse returns to fray for the first time since his hard fought win in the Cheltenham Gold Gup at Prestbury Park last March. The comparatively young pretender looks set to challenge for the Triple Crown for the first time this year following last season where he laid down his credentials as the best three mile chaser around after that epic Gold Cup win.
Last season, the chestnut champion didn’t race until February due to a minor Injury. However, trainer Colin Tizzard stated it was all systems go and so long as all goes well prior to the weekend, the eight-year-old will definitely take his chance in what would be his first outing in the Betfair Chase.
Should he manage to overcome his rivals on this slightly better ground at Haydock then him and long-time companion and Stobart Champion Jockey Richard Johnson will certainly be looking forward to both the King George VI and Cheltenham Gold Cup on likely softer ground.
Trainer Colin Tizzard recently reported that 10-year-old chaser Thistlecrack was in peak shape ahead of his return to the track following almost a year out injured.
Previously a winner of 10 straight races, including the King George VI, JLT Long Walk Hurdle and Ryanair Chase meant Thistlecrack was hailed as one of the next great chasers. That was unfortunately then halted by a brief baron patch followed by injury which forced Tizzard to take him off the track for a prolonged period last December.
If he can rediscover any of the form that saw him dominate in 2016, we could well see him claim some of the bigger prizes this campaign. Age is not on his side, however, connections will be hoping this weekend’s Betfair Chase can serve as a precursor to a cracking final season culminating in those notorious orange silks lining up in next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Bristol De Mai
There’s no doubt Nigel Twiston-Davies’ hope finds his best form in heavier ground, however that’s no reason to discount the seven-year-old. The youngest of the quartet showed promise on quicker ground last time out when finishing behind Might Bite in the Betway Bowl last April. However, he will have to come on significantly if he is to turn that form over and mount a serious bid for the National Hunt Triple Crown.
This time last year, he showed the best performance of his blossoming career, beating previous three-time winner Cue Card by an astonishing 57 lengths in a performance that surprised just about everyone in the racing community. However, he failed to really build on that but will be hoping that he can spring a surprise this Saturday following a healthy summer break.
It’s never easy to confidently say that these four will go for all three races and it’s even more difficult to predict who might prevail in each race let alone all three. Since the inaugural running of the Triple Crown in 2005/06 only the mighty Kauto Star has won the million bonus. It would be a magical story if any of these were to match such a feat.
Whatever happens we are in for an unbelievable National Hunt season and a mouth-watering trio of races.