It was a weekend to savour, particularly at Haydock where we had the first domestic Grade 1 of the season in the form of the Betfair Chase. A small field that was littered with quality, they had previously won fourteen Grade 1’s between them. The supporting card gave us some food for thought as well as Ascot where Politologue contributed to our third winning NAP of the Day from the last four, so let’s get stuck in.
Having started off the even money favourite for the Betfair Chase, Might Bite was expected to begin the season with a bang. Unfortunately, it was more bust than bang. His jumping just wasn’t quite there and despite being almost upsides the leader three fences from home, he ended up trailing in a long last come the winning post. That obviously wasn’t his true running and we know he’s far better than that, although he has more question marks now. Now available at 9/1 for the Gold Cup, that could be a slight overreaction. Bristol De Mai once again excelled at his beloved Haydock to make it four wins from four at the venue and 20/1 is still readily available for the big one in March. He has a lot to prove at that track, however. It was another solid run from Native River in second and his price ranges from 9/2 to 7/1 for a Gold Cup retention after what can be considered an encouraging reappearance in conditions short of his optimum. Thistlecrack showed some of his old zest which was brilliant to see, but his jumping left a little to be desired. The fifth runner was Clan Des Obeaux who ran a good race without suggesting he’d improved greatly from last season.
Haydock came in for some criticism for the stiffness of the track’s fences at the weekend and River Wylde was one of a few to succumb to the obstacles. Coming with a winning run approaching the final fence, he simply didn’t get high enough and went crashing through it, throwing Nico de Boinville aside in the process. Thankfully both were alright and live to fight another day. The difficulty of the fences can certainly be used as an excuse for the inexperienced River Wylde, who was having just his third start over the larger obstacles. He doesn’t lack ability and looking at his previous form when third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle behind Labaik and Melon in 2017, he’s a talent. He’ll definitely be better over intermediate to staying distances and while the Ryanair Chase may be a slightly lofty target, he’s worth noting down for the Brown Advisory And Merriebelle Stable Plate as well as the Ultima Handicap Chase if his mark isn’t too high come March.
It was an ideal return to action for Paul Nicholls dual Grade 1 winner Politologue as he took the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday. He travelled much the best into the contest and was always doing enough to hold Charbel after the last fence. Even though he doesn’t lack speed, the King George is being set as his most likely next port of call, which may just about be within his reach. Given he won the Melling Chase over two and a half miles at Aintree in April, the distance of the Ryanair Chase at the Festival should suit perfectly. Available at 14/1 at present in a race which looks as though it could cut up plenty, that price could be way shorter come race day.
Harry Fry’s charge showed no ill effects of his return from a long break just two weeks earlier at Wincanton after claiming the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday. If The Cap Fits actually looked beaten coming round the home bend, but stamina won him the race off a searching gallop set by Rayvin Black. However, that effort isn’t enough to greatly enhance his Champion Hurdle claims and he still needs to improve plenty to be troubling the likes of Buveur D’Air. Odds of 33/1 reflect that though and we’ll know more about him next time out when hopefully he tackles Grade 1 company.
In a division where we are yet to see any standout contenders, Didtheyleaveuoutto and Thomas Darby did themselves no harm when battling out a finish at Ascot on Friday. The pair drew nicely clear of the third where the former just emerged victorious by a head. Ground seems crucial to that horse so he’ll need some good spring ground to be seen to best effect at the Festival. Olly Murphy’s Thomas Darby has already won over hurdles at Cheltenham and that track looks to play more to his strengths given the way he flew up the hill ahead of a subsequent Grade 2 winner. He’s available at 25/1 with Didtheyleaveuoutto at 20/1 and without leaping out of the page at present, they look genuine players.
More Grade 1 action on the way this weekend with the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday, which could feature Buveur D’Air, Samcro and Summerville Boy in an excellent clash. Fairyhouse also gets in on the act on Sunday with three races at the highest level which include the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle where Apple’s Jade will be looking for a third successive win in the race. The Ladbrokes Trophy takes place at Newbury on Saturday which is one of the best chase handicaps of the campaign.