Betfair hat-trick for Haydock specialist Bristol de Mai
As the heavens opened on Saturday morning ahead of the Grade 1 Betfair Lancashire Chase, there was a sense of inevitability about what was to unfold later in the day, writes Michael Harris.
Bristol de Mai saves his best form for Haydock and under his optimal conditions he put in a sure-footed performance to record his third victory in the Betfair. With last year’s winner Lostintranslation appearing in trouble a long way out as he struggled to cope with the more testing conditions twelve months on, it soon became a two-horse race and Bristol de Mai dug deep to see off a determined challenge from Clan des Obeaux.
In terms of ratings, I have left Bristol de Mai on 169, the same figure he ran to when second last year in both the Betfair Chase and Cotswold Chase. Only Cyrname at 170 has bettered that rating so far this season.
Clan des Obeaux performed to 167 on the day but his rating remains unchanged on 171. This was a better performance than when he finished fourth (running to 161) in this race before a first King George success in 2018, and also an improvement on the 164 figure he ran to at Down Royal on his seasonal reappearance last year.
He looks to be in great shape ahead of his bid to win a third King George, although this race was run in more testing conditions than he had previously encountered at this time of the year and it remains to be seen if that affects his next performance.
At Ascot, Imperial Aura continued his rise-up the ranks with an authoritative success in the Grade 2 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase. It looked to be his sternest test to date but he passed with flying colours after a great round of jumping.
Although the departure of Black Corton made his task easier, he saw off two good rivals with something in hand. Imperial Aura is now rated 163 which makes him the leading GB performer in the 2½m division so far this season.
Open to further improvement given his overall profile, the Ryanair chase looks an obvious long-term aim.
2m hurdle scene hotting up
The Grade 1 Fighting Fifth hurdle – and the expected reappearance of Champion Hurdle winner Epatante – will feature in next week’s blog, but there were a couple of notable races in the 2m division at Cheltenham last Sunday week, writes Andrew Mealor.
First up was the Unibet Greatwood Handicap. The race provided a competitive finish with little between the first six at the last before Irish raider The Shunter (+7 lb to 135) stayed on best up the hill to score by three lengths.
Conditions were pretty gruelling for the final day of the November meeting (soft, heavy in places) and the emphasis on stamina definitely suited The Shunter who had landed a chase over 21f on his penultimate start.
Ballyandy (157) edged out Tegerek (135) for second and produced just about a career best in the process. Campaigned as a Champion Hurdle contender last season, his form is once again not far off the very best two-milers, and this was a second successive good effort in a notable handicap having finished second to Sceau Royal (158) in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las last month.
That race is proving very strong form with Sceau Royal going on to land the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton by over seven lengths, whilst the third home, Buzz, hacked up in a handicap at Ascot last Friday, earning an 11lb rise (to 148) in the process.
Sceau Royal holds an entry in the Fighting Fifth, and he along with 2019 winner Cornerstone Lad (159) and Silver Streak (158) will hopefully provide some notable opposition to Epatante at Gosforth Park next weekend.
Thirty-five minutes after the Greatwood, For Pleasure (145) put an errant display on his previous start firmly behind him when landing the Grade 2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Sharp Novices’ Hurdle.
Having almost run off the track at Kempton last month, For Pleasure was clearly much happier back on a left-handed course and he soon raced in a big lead as usual. Of the remaining five runners, only favourite Third Time Lucki (140) managed to make headway from three out to chase the winner.
He got within two to three lengths at the last but For Pleasure pulled out more on the run-in despite wandering. Other leading novices may have more scope for improvement as the season progresses but For Pleasure has done plenty already, having improved in the region of 40lb since landing his first success off a mark of 107 back in July.