Nigel Twiston-Davies feels Bristol De Mai has few questions to answer as he goes in search of a third win in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
The bold-jumping grey had been pigeon-holed as a soft-ground specialist after he failed to back up his incredible 57-length win in the race in 2017.
However, on good ground last year up against the Gold Cup winner Native River, a former King George hero in Thistlecrack and a subsequent winner of that race in Clan Des Obeaux, Bristol De Mai showed his versatility when winning by four lengths.
And while he fell in the King George at Christmas, he then ran a solid race in the Gold Cup when third to Al Boum Photo and Anibale Fly, his best run away from Haydock.
“He was the third-best horse in England and Ireland at Cheltenham and those two Irish horses aren’t coming over so he should win,” said Twiston-Davies.
“Unexpected things can happen. He has just run around there (Haydock) more times than anywhere else. He is a very good horse and was third in the Gold Cup. I don’t think it is anything to do with Haydock. He is a good horse and it is a good race. There is nothing to do with track or the time of year it falls.
“It was good ground last year so I don’t think that is a problem.
“There is always more pressure when you are favourite. If you are underdog it sits much more pleasant, but we have got the supposed best horse in the race and hopefully he shows it.”
Twiston-Davies also runs Ballyoptic, in a race he won with Imperial Commander in 2010.
Ballyoptic only completed once in four outings last season, but this term it has been a different story, with a good win at Chepstow and a career-best victory in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.
“The real target for him will be the Grand National. He was going well when he fell in it last year,” said Twiston-Davies.
“It was very pleasing last time. He has always been a nice horse. Last season everything went wrong as he had a couple falls, but he put that to bed and hopefully he will keep improving.
“He is definitely jumping better this season, but I think he is just growing up and learning.”
The new kid on the block is Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation, one of last year’s best novices, who is stepping into open company for the first time.
He set pulses racing when winning the Colin Parker at Carlisle on his comeback, but will face a totally different level of opponent on Merseyside.
Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He is in good nick. I’m looking forward to his next step.
“He did everything we expected him to do at Carlisle and that worked out as lovely prep run for him and now he moves up into the highest league. I’m looking forward to running him.
“Three miles suits him. It was the right thing to do, go two and a half miles last time.
“His novice form got a big boost with Defi Du Seuil on Sunday and hopefully he can take the next step as well.
“He definitely looks sharper at home and he has lost a bit of his tummy. He managed to win and tighten up on his first start, which is good. I couldn’t be more pleased where we have got him.”
Rated just 1lb below Bristol De Mai is Paul Nicholls’ Ryanair Chase winner Frodon, and the champion trainer feels Bryony Frost’s mount has been underestimated.
“Frodon has a lot in his favour. It’s a small field, he’s had a run which we wanted him to have and at the end of the day he won a Ryanair and a Cotswold Chase last season,” said Nicholls.
“He’s a good horse, I think he’s been underestimated a little bit. Would you have said Lostintranslation would have won a Cotswold or a Ryanair last season, or even Bristol De Mai.
“I think it’s an interesting, tight little race. I know Bristol De Mai is always brilliant there and if he turns up in the form he was last year then he’ll be very hard to beat, but it’s a hot race.
“I know Lostintranslation was good as a novice, but I still think he’s got it to prove. He won a soft race the other day where he had an easy lead, but now he’s in against the big boys so it will be very interesting to see.”