Now in its twelfth year, the three-mile Betfair Chase is the first Grade One Chase of the season and the starting point for some of the top staying chasers in training.
The race now has the added incentive of being the first leg of the Jockey Club’s ‘Chase Triple Crown’ £1-million bonus.
The Betfair Chase has produced some superb finishes over the years. Few will forget the thrilling climax to the 2009 race, when a nose separated Kauto Star and Imperial Commander. Some people still cannot believe that latter did not get the verdict to this day. Infused in many memories is the reception given to Kauto Star when he recorded a fourth Betfair Chase victory in 2011 with scenes of Paul Nicholls pumping the air in the paddock.
Here are some trends and statistics based on the last ten renewals of the race followed by a runner-by-runner summary and conclusion.
As you can see there has been a fair spread of wins across the age groups so it is very difficult to rule something out for being too young/too old.
Irish Bred: 2-4-22
British Bred: 2-0-17
French Bred: 6-8-27
It appears being a French bred gives you a distinct advantage in recent years. Silvianaco Conti and Vezelay are the only two horses that fit those criteria this year with the latter horse probably out of his depth.
Colin Tizzard (2-0-4) has saddled Cue Card to win this in 2013 & 2015.
Paul Nicholls (6-2-11) sent out Kauto Star who the race four times and he also trained Silviniaco Conti to win it in 2012 & 2014.
Philip Hobbs (0-1-2) is again represented by Menorah who finished second in 2014.
Nine of the last ten winners have been priced 9/1 or under. Only the slightly fortuitous Snoopy Loopy has bucked that trend.
Other key pointers
Seven winners finished in the first three on their preceding start.
Six winners had contested the race before.
Eight winners had won a Grade One Chase.
Four winners had won the Gold Cup.
Seven winners had had a prep run.
A guide to the runners
Winner of the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Coneygree is unbeaten in five starts over fences and will be making his first appearance since winning an intermediate chase at Sandown Park just over a year ago. Aidan Coleman partners Coneygree for the first time as his regular rider Nico de Boinville is on the sidelines due to injury.
Colin Tizzard’s ten-year-old has won the three-mile contest for two of the past three seasons, scoring by four and a half lengths from Dynaste in 2013 and beating Silviniaco Conti by seven lengths twelve months ago.
Cue Card finished third on his seasonal reappearance behind Irish Cavalier (9/1) and Menorah (20/1) in the Grade Two Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on October 29th.
Silviniaco Conti was successful in the Betfair Chase in 2012 and 2014 and comes into Saturday’s race on the back of his good run and second placing in the Grade One JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on November 5th. It is unclear at this stage whether connections will go down the Gold Cup or Grand National route this year. Saturday’s performance will certainly help make their minds up.
Irish Cavalier heads to Merseyside on the back of a career-best performance, having taking the scalps of Cue Card and Menorah in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
His trainer Rebecca Curtis is concerned however about the amount of rain forecast for the area for the weekend but has not ruled out the grey geldings’ participation entirely. She recognises he can handle some softer ground but would prefer drier conditions underfoot.
Seeyouatmidnight is certainly on the upgrade after registering an easy twelve-length success over Grade One winner Bristol De Mai in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle on October 30th. His in-form jockey Brian Hughes likened him to a “jet” that day.
The eight-year-old took three novice chases on the trot last season, including a bold front-running victory over the subsequent RSA Chase winner Blaklion in a Group Two race at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Seeyouatmidnight has good form on testing ground at Haydock Park, having taken the Rendlesham Hurdle as a novice on the course in 2014.
A grand old servant to the Philip Hobbs yard who ran a brave race to split Irish Cavalier and Cue Card at Wetherby, going down only narrowly to a rival several years his junior. He was second in this two years ago and his career also includes Grade One wins at both Cheltenham and Aintree.
Whispers were abound this week that his participation will be down to the going and there might be a whole load of jockey shuffling going on come Saturday morning. If he lines up he could run a big race at a big price.
Vezelay is set to add a spot of Gallic flair to the Betfair Chase with trainer Emmanuel Clayeux travelling over from France with his seven-year-old gelding. Haydock has not seen anything quite like it since the days of François Doumen and his raiding parties from across the Channel.
Vezelay is a winner at both Grade Two and Three level over fences and a standing dish around Auteuil. He was third behind Grade One winner Milord Thomas in the Prix la Haye Jousselin last November but could only finish seventh in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris back in May.
With question marks over some of the principles in the betting it may pay to side with a new, up and coming, star in this feature race.
It is hard to know just how much ability Coneygree maintains. He could easily blow them away here or on the flipside, sink like a lead balloon. It really is that black or white for him.
Cue Card has always been in tip top condition for this race and everyone assumes he will come on leaps and bounds for his Wetherby run, but it must get harder and harder to reach that pinnacle each year for his trainer as the horse gets older and wiser. Does he still enjoy the regime- you have to wonder?
For Silviniaco Conti to come back and win a third Betfair Chase would require yet another herculean effort from both the horse and trainer. It wouldn’t quite be up there with Kauto Star’s last Betfair win, but it would be pretty damn close.
These queries and quandaries could quite easily leave the door ajar for Sandy Thomson’s northern raider, Seeyouatmidnight. The horse has shown he is very adept at both the track and in the conditions and is certainly worth an interest in this grade given his own upwardly mobile form figures.
Steve Mullington advises: Seeyouatmidnight (e/w)