Betfair Chase Preview
AFTER a week in which racing has mourned the loss of two superstars – and lamented the retirement of another – it’s with some irony that one of the sport’s most fragile beasts looms into view to take centre stage this Saturday.
The return of…
Connections of the brilliant Coneygree were labelled fit for the loony bin when sending their fledgling chaser to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2015. That he laughed at his opposition and became the first novice to scoop the big one since Captain Christy in 1974 is now a matter for the record books. Of course, that record could quite easily go again in 2017 with the equally precocious Thistlecrack arriving on the scene, but for now at least, Mark Bradstock’s charge holds a special place in many a punter’s heart for what he did that day at Prestbury Park, simply galloping his rivals into the ground.
To say that progress since then has been hampered would be an understatement. Always a horse who had to be nursed rather than unleashed, Coneygree has been seen on a track just the once since that famous Festival day. All of which shines a brighter than ever spotlight upon his long awaited return at Haydock in this weekend’s Betfair Chase. Naturally, his comeback has been one of racing’s most gripping narratives of the last 12 months. But coming just days after the deaths of Vautour and Simonsig, and the standing down of the iconic Sprinter Sacre, means this will be a more highly charged occasion than most. One to watch through the cracks of fingers if ever there was one – and never has the need been greater for one of racing’s greats to put in a safe round of jumping and come home in one piece.
Make no mistake, that is the clear aim of connections here. Just getting Coneygree back to the track is a triumph in itself – to win a contest of this calibre first up would be a bonus ball of epic proportions for Team Bradstock. Privately, they are no doubt looking for the signals that their champion still has what it takes to combat the electric charge of a Thistlecrack this season. Publicly, they will insist this is all about a stepping stone to what lies ahead. And for that reason, I see little value in quotes as short as 2/1 about a horse returning from a layoff of more than a year – and especially one with some searching fitness questions to answer.
What about the favourite?
Similarly, market favourite CUE CARD looks almighty short for a horse with, in my view, plenty of renewed questions to answer. It almost seems churlish to question his ability, given what he achieved in a stirring 2015-16 campaign, but it may just be that time is now marching on for Colin Tizzard’s inmate. His comeback run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby has divided opinion – to my eyes he did not look the same horse as last year and, regardless of lacking fitness, you do not want to see horses like Irish Cavalier pulling away from you on the run to the line. I’ve no doubt CUE CARD will come on for what he did at Wetherby, but he screams out as being vulnerable to an improver, and for that reason I could not touch him with stolen money at 6/4.
So where’s the value?
The mover in the pack is now SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT and I’ve already put this horse up to my own members as an antepost selection. For me, he has so many things going in his favour this weekend that he’s almost impossible to ignore and even his shortening price would not put me off as it still represents fine value. If we look at conditions, it’s sure to be a stamina test and this is one horse who we know relishes the mud. He was a really fair third in the Scottish National at Ayr this year, so will get this trip all day long. But where he comes into his own is surely his new-found zest for jumping after what can only be described as a destruction of Bristol De Mai at Carlisle last month.
The way he set off in front and jumped for fun was a joy to watch and I’d go as far as to say you won’t see a better round all season. It was sublime and a really good horse in Bristol De Mai had absolutely no answer. It’s more than possible that he gets everyone at it early doors in this race (even Coneygree) and that’s when the fitness angle could well come into play. Trainer Sandy Thompson is already muttering about the Cheltenham Gold Cup for this horse off the back of that Carlisle win, so they clearly don’t think it was a fluke, and if he goes in again here I think they have no option but to head down that route.
Ironically, the race is not stacked with potential improvers, and that’s what makes SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT such a strong pick here. If you look elsewhere to the likes of SILVINACO CONTI, he appears to be a horse with whom connections retain faith out of loyalty more than anything else. Save for a pretty stunning performance at Ascot in February, he’s looked on the decline, and you have to question what he actually beat that day with Dynaste back in second. His comeback at Down Royal last month saw him smashed by 11 lengths at the hands of Valseur Lido and did nothing to raise hopes of better to come. He’ll get the trip and the ground but is another who is massively vulnerable.
In some ways, therefore, it’s surprising to see IRISH CAVALIER priced up with such little respect (available at 11/1) having beaten Cue Card last time. Evidently, the layers do not rate the form, but in many ways that underlines the point about Cue Card being such poor value here. How you can row in at 6/4 about a horse who was pretty well beaten by an 11/1 shot in this race is beyond me, even though Cue Card is now receiving a 4lbs pull. Irish Cavalier is solid, but until now he’s been little more, and although the 11/1 is probably a bit of an insult to his talent, it will take a big effort for him to land these spoils.
Outsider to shock us?
The veteran MENORAH ran a blinder in splitting Irish Cavalier and Cue Card last time and gets the top services of Richard Johnson. Form-wise, you’d have to say he merits quite a bit of respect considering he won the Oaksey Chase in April – beating a certain Valseur Lido into second – before that big run on his comeback in the Charlie Hall. He’ll definitely give his backers a run for their money.
It leaves just the one fly in the ointment, VEZELAY, who is being pitched in from France and clearly relishes bottomless ground. On all known form he shouldn’t lay a glove on the rest of this field but, as with any cross-border raider with a liking for these conditions, he must be treated with caution. But it would surely rate as one of the shocks of the year were he to come home in front in a race I’m thoroughly looking forward to.
I’ll be all aboard SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT and with a best price of 7/1 still available, I’d definitely recommend taking that each way value while you still can.