The Betfair Chase at Haydock is an intriguing prospect for punters as the two market leaders both have questions to answer (3pm Saturday live on Channel 4).
The current titleholder and 13/8 favourite Cue Card was phenomenal last season, transformed by a wind operation and helped by improvements at the Tizzard yard, but he was a disappointing odds-on shot in the Charlie Hall Chase.
All the vibes were positive before that race, Cue Card reportedly retained his enthusiasm for the job and had enjoyed a perfect preparation for his seasonal debut. Officially rated at least a stone superior to the field he faded in the final 100 yards and was beaten three lengths into third by Rebecca Curtis’ Irish Cavalier. Colin Tizzard admitted that Cue Card had a good blow afterwards and perhaps was not as fit as they thought. Quite a few of his runners earlier in the season had come on for an outing.
Now a ten-year-old, Cue Card is rated 6lb higher than the field and, if he is now fully fit, ought to stand a decent chance of retaining his crown but the ground is a concern.
Soft ground is an absolute necessity for the 2/1 second favourite Coneygree. This fragile nine-year-old has only managed a total of 11 starts. There would have been 12 but he was once prevented from coming under starter’s orders when deemed to be lame.
Trained by Mark Bradstock, Coneygree in top form is a force to be reckoned with. He could not have been more impressive when bounding to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup when still a novice chaser in 2015. Unfortunately we have only seen him once since then, winning a listed chase at Sandown a year ago. Not long afterwards he damaged a hock which has kept him at home. Coneygree’s regular jockey Nico de Boinville has also been in the wars, breaking his arm. Richard Johnson (pictured) has schooled Coneygree and takes the ride now that Philip Hobbs’ Menorah has been withdrawn.
Coneygree is rated 6lb below Cue Card and will need to be at his best to beat him. As the Bradstocks train only a handful of horses it is tricky to assess the stable form. Their only runner in the past fortnight, Robert’s Star, started as the favourite 11 days ago and was beaten 33 lengths, looking to need the run. The Bradstocks have usually managed to win first time out with Coneygree but he has never encountered opposition of this quality on his debut run. The Bradstocks voiced concerns when the going changed to heavy on Friday. Coneygree has done almost all of his work on an all weather surface as their gallop has only just become soft enough for him to use. Heavy ground will come as a bit of a surprise.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has had runners galore and made an outstanding start to the season, even by his standards, reaching the 50 winner mark exceptionally quickly. Silviniaco Conti (8/1) failed to add to that number on his debut at Down Royal in the JNWine Champion Chase a fortnight ago. Nicholls was probably hoping for testing conditions but Henry De Bromhead’s Valseur Lido outpaced him on the good ground beating him 11 lengths.
Silviniaco Conti had reportedly had the most trouble free preparation in years and seemed to enjoy himself setting the pace at Down Royal. Nicholls has always said that ‘all he does is stay’ and tried him in the National. That did not work out and Noel Fehily sensibly pulled him before the 14th fence.
Another ten-year-old, Silviniaco Conti won this race in 2014 but was beaten seven lengths last year by Cue Card who outpaced him. Stamina sapping ground has to aid his cause massively, slowing the speedsters and making him a very attractive each-way prospect.
Sandy Thomson has also made a great start to the season and saddles the eight-year-old Seeyouatmidnight (11/2) who also has stamina aplenty, finishing third in the Scottish National. This son of Midnight Legend beat Nigel Twiston-Davies’ strongly fancied Bristol De Mai 12 lengths, eased down at Carlisle at the end of October. That was over two and a half miles on good to soft but there were only two of them in the race so it is difficult to draw any conclusions from that run, especially as Bristol De Mai has not been seen since.
What we do know is that Seeyouatmidnight is at his best bowling along in front on testing ground. He put together a string of three victories last season which included a Grade 2 novice chase at Cheltenham in January. He made all and beat Blaklion three lengths on the heavy ground. Seeyouatmidnight is rated over 20lb lower than the favourite but his price suggests some confidence behind him. Unlike the majority of the field he is at an age where more improvement can reasonably be expected and heavy ground holds no fears for him.
The seven-year-old Irish Cavalier (11/1) could also be on an upward curve, having delivered a shock win in the Charlie Hall – he was sent off at 16/1. His trainer Rebecca Curtis was a bit surprised too as she was far from certain that he would stay the trip. Irish Cavalier had the benefit of a run under his belt going into the Charlie Hall and carried 4lb less than Cue Card. It is possible that he could beat him again but off level weights on testing ground it is a very big ask.
The French raider Vezelay (66/1) has never crossed the Channel before and ought to enjoy a change of scenery. Since 2013 he has been campaigned exclusively at Auteuil and has clocked up a mind-blowing 21 runs at the track. This seven-year-old last got his head in front a year ago in a Grade 3 chase just short of three miles but he has the stamina for further, like Silviniaco Conti and the 2012 Grand National winner Neptune Collonges, he is a son of Dom Alco.
Vezelay’s current French chase rating is 77kg which, converted directly into pounds, suggests 170 but it cannot be that simple because his official rating is quoted as 155. Vezelay’s two runs this season have been over hurdles, he finished second last time out beaten two lengths in a listed race, outpaced over an inadequate two and a half miles. His trainer Emmanuel Clayeux has an underwhelming strike rate of 11% over the past 12 months but he has trained the winner of a couple of valuable Grade 2 chases. One of those wins was with Vezelay two years ago.
The race card says that he wearing a tongue tie for the first time but that is probably misleading. Tongue ties do not have to be declared in France so he might have been wearing one for years. A breathing problem is unlikely to be helped by English air but Vezelay is definitely not the no-hoper that his price suggests and he may be invigorated by new surroundings.
Our Preview’s Betfair Chase Betting Tip Verdict
Cue Card and Coneygree are the two top quality acts in the line-up but neither offers any value as betting tips at their current odds as their chances could well be compromised by conditions. In contrast Seeyouatmidnight will love the heavy ground and is bound to reward his followers with a decent run for their money but does he have the class to prevail? Possibly not.
- Our preview’s Betfair Chase betting tip has to be for a horse at more generous odds, rated a stone higher than Seeyouatmidnight and with stamina to burn. SILVINIACO CONTI has an excellent chance of reclaiming his 2014 title, back him each-way best priced at 8/1 with Paddy Power or sponsors Betfair.
- There is an enhanced odds offer on this horse race, which along with other free bets, can be found on our JustBookies’ home page.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.