THE Betfair Chase is the highlight of the weekend and there will be plenty of local interest as the Michael Winters trained Chatham Street Lad heads to Haydock for this high profile Grade 1 contest.
The Kanturk trainer is running his stable star against a star-studded field although the extremely dry weather will not enhance his chances. This race was won by the legendary Kauto Star on four occasions and Bristol De Mai will attempt to equal that tomorrow for Nigel Twiston Davies and Daryl Jacob.
For the travelling Irish racing fans, there is also the Gold Cup runner up A Plus Tard trained by Henry De Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore who will go off a short-priced favourite. While Chatham Street Lad is a 33/1 chance his colourful trainer is happy with his horse.
"Normally this race is run on heavy ground but it’s been such a dry and mild November. We’ve only had one run and that was in the Munster National at Limerick a few weeks ago.
"Maybe we needed the run and our jockey wisely didn’t bottom him out when he knew his horse was gone. We’re a big each price but our horse is in super order altogether and looks a picture. There is great excitement for our staff so hopefully, he can give a good account of himself in very hot company. His run at the Cheltenham Festival was very good and he finished fourth to Chantry House who went on to win at Aintree."
Rachael Blackmore has enjoyed a sensational rise to the top and she will be thrilled to be reunited with the favourite A Plus Tard. The seven-year-old is owned by the English-based Chevley Park Stud who have so many top-class horses right now.
Blackmore will relish the chance to get back on the seven-year-old after the Gold Cup disappointment. Bristol De Mai is a course specialist and is chasing a record-equalling fourth win in the race to join Kauto. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ grey gelding got the better of Clan Des Obeaux by 2l in last year’s renewal to add to victories in 2017 and 2018. A specialist on testing ground, Bristol De Mai was last seen pulling up in April’s Grand National when carrying top weight at Aintree. He will bring the roof down if he wins it again.
Picking a winner here is tricky as the favourite usually needs a run to be seen at his best. In a typical year when the mud is really flying by now in the North West of England, there could be a case for the unexposed Next Destination, or Royale Pagaille, who is probably worth forgiving his effort when understandably thrown into the deep end as an experienced novice in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March.
The prevailing ground also looks a potential issue for Native River, particularly around these tight bends, and while Imperial Aura could be the one to spring something of a shock if all is well following a summer breathing operation, the race looks set to be dominated by the top two in the betting.
Bristol De Mai is a Haydock hero already and, with the Twiston-Davis camp banging in the winners and sounding bullish, he's going to give it another good shot as he seeks a fourth win in the race. However, A Plus Tard was part of that new wave of top-class, Irish-based chasers who really lit up last season and he's another horse in this field with an excellent record when fresh off a break.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead has already been showing signs that last year was anything but a fluke for the trainer and his seven-year-old could simply have too many gears for the title-holder on ground just on the easy side of good. Hopefully, Chatham Street Lad can rise to the occasion but it is a big step up and Michael Winters has warned that this ground is just not soft enough.
Elsewhere, Bob Olinger could make his eagerly anticipated debut over fences in a beginners' chase with a rich history at Gowran Park on Saturday. A stone bruise saw the brilliant Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner withdrawn from his intended chasing bow at Punchestown last Saturday, but trainer Henry de Bromhead has insisted the issue is not a serious one and his return may be imminent. The Knockeen trainer finished second in the 2019 and 2018 runnings with last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup one-two Minella Indo and A Plus Tard.
Bob Olinger was touched off by the since-absent Ferny Hollow in a maiden hurdle on this Gowran card last year.