A terrific card at Haydock Park with the feature race the first Grade 1 of the British jumps season the Betfair Chase. The ground was described as soft at 11am on Friday with the prospect of further showers.
Five go to post including the winners of the race for the last three years. Bristol De Mai won in 2017 and 2018 while Lostintranslation (3.00) landed the prize 12 months ago and is taken to follow up this afternoon. I don’t know what happened to the horse in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but he ran a great race in the Gold Cup when travelling like the best horse in the race before his stamina, seemingly, gave way up the Cheltenham hill. The Colin Tizzard stable are in good form of late, having made a quiet start to the new season and the 11/8 looks a fair price. Clan Des Obeaux rather than duel winner Bristol de Mai is considered the main danger.
In the opener Do Your Job (12.10) is taken to make all and maintain his unbeaten record over timber. The selection was very impressive on heavy ground at Ayr last time when giving 6lbs to a subsequent winner from the Dan Skelton stable. Skelton saddles market leader Flic Ou Voyou this afternoon and should know where he stands with the selection, but his three facile wins have come on decent ground and he has been beaten on all three starts on soft or heavy ground. The Carlisle winner Severance was rated 90 on the flat for Mick Channon and he looked smart when scoring on debut. He will have the race run to suit, given the guaranteed decent gallop, and represents a big danger.
The mare Snow Leopardess (12.40) makes her handicap debut from a decent looking mark having run with plenty of credit in two good novice chases. Yes, she has received the sex allowance in those contests and has won in deep ground at Auteuil. She has yet to prove she gets this extended 3m 1f trip, but she gets the each way vote at 7/1.
Umbrigado was not getting home when tried over three miles last season, but this intermediate trip of an extended 2m 2f looks ideal and Fergus Gillard takes off a valuable 7lbs in an ultra-competitive handicap hurdle. He must go close and 9/1 looks a very fair each way price.
I have backed two in the race, however, and marginal preference is for Shakem Up’Arry (1.50) who easily landed the odds in a moderate novice hurdle at Ffos Las on his reappearance. The selection is owned by former Spurs boss Harry Redknapp and went off 7/4 joint favourite when runner up to non-other than subsequent Supreme Novices’ winner Shishkin at Newbury. He was out of his depth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – looked a non-stayer – behind Envoi Allen at the Festival and has yet to prove this trip is within his compass, but I believe he is very well treated from his current mark.
I still have nightmares about Imperial Alcazar somehow getting beat in the French Furze at Newcastle last season, but he remains an exciting horse and he will not lack for fitness on his reappearance for the excellent Fergal O’Brien.
Relegate (2.25) is fitted with cheek-pieces for the first-time and I like the booking of Robbie Power for this former Festival Bumper winner when in the care of Willie Mullins. The selection finished fifth in the Pertemps Final back in the spring, when given too much to do, but she has had a recent pipe-opener and the hope is that she can get her career back on track. The ew recommendation is a best price of 13/2.
Alminar (3.35) was weak in the market when a good third at Cheltenham last month on his reappearance and has had his wind tweaked in the interim period. The step up in trip to 3m 4f is a plus in the finale and he is another each way recommendation at 12/1.
Only four go to post for the 2m 5f Grade 2 Chase at Ascot but it is a top-class race with Real Steel having his first start for Paul Nicholls. If you stop the Gold Cup going to two out back in March nothing was going better than Real Steel but he failed to get up the hill. He is a top-class prospect at intermediate trips but so, too, is Imperial Aura (2.05) and the latter has already shown his wellbeing at Carlisle at the beginning of the month.
The old Laurina would pick up and carry her two rivals in the Ascot Hurdle and the hope is that she has been sweetened up for the switch to the Paul Nicholls yard. She did not take to chasing last season but also disappointed back over hurdles in February behind a stablemate. Nicholls’ has had the wind of the mare operated on since her arrival in the yard and she is certainly favoured by the conditions of the race.
I hope it is a good day for Kim Bailey as First Flow (3.17) is taken to land the 2m handicap chase under David Bass. The 8-year-old has finished placed on his two previous visits to the track but has run well in defeat and a flat right-handed track is ideal.