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The jumps season is well and truly back. Big names are hitting the track and we have a tremendous amount to look forward to over the next few months, especially the 2017 Betfair Chase. With so much talent packed in the chasing division this season, fans have a lot to be excited about with the race having a track record of attracting the very best. Kauto Star made this race his very own with four wins across five seasons and in-between Imperial Commander added this race to his considerable list of achievements.
There is also the no-small financial aspect of the £1 million bonus on offer for the third season in succession, which is earned if a horse wins the Betfair Chase, the 32Red King George VI Chase and the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup as Kauto Star did in 2005. It is that financial incentive which has brought Sizing John here for his comeback, with the defending Gold Cup champion having taken his own treble last year when he took the Irish Gold Cup, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup, the last named race resulting in a pure thriller when he managed to edge out Coneygree and Djakadam.
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Jessica Harrington gave racegoers something to look forward to when explaining the path ahead for her stable star Sizing John, telling the Racing Post: “Our aim is to start him off in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on 25th November.” He looks fantastic. We’re keen to have a crack at the £1 million bonus for winning the three races at Haydock, Kempton (King George VI Chase) and Cheltenham (Gold Cup). It’s exciting to have a horse to run in those races, and the Triple Crown has always been on our minds since he won at Punchestown.”
The Charlie Hall Chase has often been a good trial for this, and we saw two contenders have very different experiences at Wetherby. Bristol De Mai came right back to his best to beat stablemate Blaklion in a one-two for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, an impressive performance given that Bristol De Mai was giving 6lbs to the runner up on his debut.
He pushed on from a long way out – he was in the lead rounding the home turn – so to find enough to hold off his stablemate was an impressive performance and he’s now returning to what is undoubtedly his best track.
Cue Card was still going well when he fell at the fifth last from home, with connections inclined to blame the low sun for his fall. “He took his eye off it, jockey Paddy Brennan told the Racing Post after the race. “Early on in the race he was a bit sluggish but once I got him up there down the back I was happier. “But fallers don’t win races. He was all right and there’s always another day.”
There won’t be another day for Paddy Brennan, who has lost the ride to Harry Cobden in the future. This has split opinion amongst some, with Brennan having partnered Cue Card to five Grade 1 wins, but three falls, including two at the same fence when travelling extremely well in the Gold Cup.
Cobden, a prodigious talent at the age of 19 who already has a taste of top levels success thanks to Irving’s win in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and is the current Conditional Champion Jockey, has softer hands than Brennan when delivering his horses into the wings of a fence, and that could be beneficial for a horse who is a very strong traveller through his races. It would be unwise to write him off as many have done so far – Kauto Star faced the same calls for retirement but when went onto win this race famously for the fourth time in 2011.
We could also see Nicky Henderson’s enigmatic chaser Might Bite return. The eight-year-old produced an absolutely remarkable performance to destroy what turned out to be a good field in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (better known as the Feltham Chase), falling at the last when 18 lengths clear of a subsequent winner Royal Vacation who won by 12 lengths off 144 at Cheltenham next time out, and he then ground his opposition into submission in the RSA Chase, turning home 10 lengths clear before suddenly jinking towards the standside, coming to a stop and rallying to get the better of the fast finishing Whisper.
He would then double up at Aintree despite that huge effort, when he was much more professional in the smaller field. It is not a certainty that he comes here, but if he does he will have had a run in the Future Champions Novice Chase at Sandown, giving him the big advantage of a run. We’ll know a lot more after then.
An interesting contender is Tea For Two, who gave Lizzie Kelly the highlight of her career when beating Cue Card in the Betfair Bowl, having fallen early in the Gold Cup. He got the better of Cue Card at Aintree in what was a career best and it’s best to completely forget his appearance over a trip that was way too sharp in the Old Roan Chase and this ground and trip ought to see him come right back to his best.
Gordon Elliott’s Lexus Chase winner Outlander would be a fascinating contender if he arrived here. He needed the run badly on his seasonal debut and was also injured at Punchestown in a Grade 3 on his seasonal debut but he came on leaps and bounds for that to then battle hard to win the JNWine Champion Chase and do so in game style with Road To Respect beaten fair and square. 14 lengths behind was Zabana in third, and should he repeat that effort here – he has been in and out in the past – he will take a power of beating.
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