Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake looks back on Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock, a race where Bristol De Mai fended off last season's Gold Cup one-two.

  • Monday 26 November
  • Blog
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The Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday was a real early-season treat in terms of the field it attracted. While the fact that all five of the runners were making their seasonal reappearances introduced any number of unknowns into the equation, it still made for a fantastic spectacle that attracted a huge crowd to Haydock to witness it. When all was said and done, it was the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai that produced a near foot-perfect performance to stamp his authority on his star-studded opposition.

Bristol De Mai isn’t the most consistent of horses, a tendency that lends itself to observers seeking out patterns to explain his inconsistency. The widely-held view prior to Saturday was that Haydock and testing ground were the keys to him, but now that he has done it on good ground at Haydock, many are likely to view him as purely a Haydock specialist. However, to do so serves to devalue him, as he has produced a high level of form elsewhere when on song.

Twiston-Davis hinted at what the more likely reality is after the race when revealing that Bristol De Mai isn’t an easy horse to keep right and that he might just be at his best when fresh in the early stages of the season. This is a theory that seems to have some merit when one looks at his last couple of campaigns. If Twiston-Davies does indeed believe that to be the case, it will be interesting to see if he campaigns Bristol De Mai more sparingly for the remainder of the season and focuses on one or maybe two big targets with him.

Bristol De Mai wins the Betfair Chase
Bristol De Mai in action, winning his second Betfair Chase

While on the subject of looking to the future, the connections of Native River are likely to be thrilled with his run to finish second to Bristol De Mai. The eight-year-old didn’t miss a beat on the jumping front and did what everyone knows he does best, gallop on relentlessly. He met one with too much pace for him on good ground here, but this was the most speed-focused test he is likely to encounter all season and the likely increased emphasis on stamina in his next few starts will be sure to show him to better effect.

While Colin Tizzard mentioned the possibility of running him in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, one can’t help but think they should consider the Leopardstown Christmas Chase instead. That course and distance would almost certainly suit him better than that of the King George and the ground is always likelier to be softer at Leopardstown than Kempton.

It is 11 years since Denman lit up the Leopardstown Christmas Festival by coming over and winning that race and Native River would be certain to be greeted enthusiastically by the Irish racing public if he made the trip over.

The Tizzards are likely to have been equally if not more pleased with the run of Thistlecrack back in third. The 10-year-old has had to navigate a rocky road since emerging as one of the stars of the sport when winning the King George VI Chase as a novice on just his fourth start over fences back in 2016. Defeat and injury followed in his very next start and he looked diminished in his two runs last season, but this was more like it.

His jumping hasn’t always been foot perfect, but rather than the overly-aggressive tendencies he showed as a novice, he got into the bottom of a few at Haydock that saw him lose vital ground, but he tanked his way back into the race and stuck to his task very well. This still wasn’t quite the Thistlecrack of old, but it was definitely encouraging. If he can come back to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton it will rank as one of the best comeback stories of recent seasons, but he will face anything but a straightforward task in doing so.

The other big story of the race was of course the run of the Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite. This was the worst performance of his chasing career and one that isn’t the easiest to explain. On his comeback run last year he was overly gassy and exuberant, but he wasn’t nearly as sparky here.

More so than anything else, the manner in which he weakened in the closing stages was disappointing in the context of what seemed to be expected of him. It will be interesting to see if anything emerges from his connections in the coming days, but as of now, he seems to have been given a clean bill of health. It will be a fair turnaround for him to come back and win the King George VI Chase at Kempton off the back of this run.

As an aside, the discussion about the fences at Haydock was a puzzling one. While it seems to be generally accepted that the fences were a bit bigger and packed tighter than they have been in recent times at the track, it would seem ill-advised to put too much emphasis on this in post-race analysis of the Betfair Chase.

These are the very best staying chasers on the planet and the thought that they might be significantly affected by fences that are a little bit bigger and stiffer than usual seems unlikely. 

Kevin Blake
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