The Betfair Chase at Haydock Park is always one of the very best races of the season and once again it turned out to be a thrilling renewal. Prior to the off on Saturday, it was one of the most hotly anticipated races away from Cheltenham in recent memory with any number of top class horses facing off at the Lancashire track. It was the centre piece race on a weekend of top class action with high quality cards taking place on both sides of the Irish Sea.
The Betfair Chase has been won by some horses of the very highest order since it was first run in 2005 and in Cue Card, we can now add another name to that list. The Colin Tizzard horse was popped out in front by Joe Tizzard at Haydock and the Ryanair Chase winner seemed to love every inch of the trip. There had been stamina doubts about Cue Card prior to the off but he put those to bed in no uncertain terms to claim a memorable four and a half length win.
A top class field was hardly able to land a blow on Cue Card as he jumped and travelled with such enthusiasm and in the process, mark himself out as one of the best horses in training. The grey, Dynaste, acquitted himself well for David Pipe back in second place while Silviniaco Conti ran a solid race back in third. Neither looked like beating Cue Card on this occasion though with the seven year-old slashed from 25/1, into 5/1, for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March as a result.
The major disappointment of the race was Bobs Worth who flopped on his first start since winning the Gold Cup back in March. Nicky Henderson was downbeat after the run with Bobs Worth looking one paced up against the likes of Cue Card and Dynaste. It would be foolish to write off Bobs Worth at this stage, with his stamina always a positive at Cheltenham, but he will need to improve plenty next time out, which is likley to be the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas or the Argento Chase on Trials Day at Cheltenham at the end of January. The bookmakers took note of the run on Saturday with Betfred lengthening his Gold Cup price to 5/1, from 3/1, as a result of his latest effort.
Elsewhere on the Haydock card on Saturday, we saw a good win from Gevrey Chambertain for David Pipe. The grey produced a strong gallop in first time cheek pieces, to win the Fixed Brush Hurdle in good style and he will now go chasing. William Hill reacted by installing Gevrey Chambertain as a 16/1 shot to win the RSA Chase which looks a fair price at this stage of the winter.
Nicky Henderson may have had a tough day with Bobs Worth but the Seven Barrows handler did have some success earlier on the Haydock card. All eyes were on Rolling Star in the winners enclosure after the four-year-old won the two mile hurdle in some style. He disappointed in the Triumph Hurdle last season, when well fancied, but he looked back to his best here under a good ride from Barry Geraghty. The Champion Hurdle remains a possible target for Rolling Star with bookmakers differing in opinion on his chances, with prices ranging from 20/1 to 33/1 available after this win.
There was also some good action down at Ascot on Saturday afternoon with a number of nice horses staking their claims. The star turn came from Al Ferof, who won the Amlin Chase on his first start for over a year for Paul Nicholls. The grey won the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2012, but looked in good shape after such a long lay-off as he beat just one rival in the form of French Opera. The King George is next on his agenda while a Gold Cup run remains a possibility, for which he can currently be backed at 14/1 from 20/1 for.
The Coral Hurdle was the other main race on the Ascot card and we saw an impressive win from Annie Power. The mare was in receipt of plenty of weight from Zarkandar but she won well in a small field to maintain her unbeaten record for Willie Mullins. She looked a little green and should still have plenty of improvement to come but beating Zarkandar is certainly a solid piece of form. Her long term target remains up in the air but a Champion Hurdle run is possible target for which Annie Power was trimmed from 14/1, into 10/1 for after her latest success. However, that would mean a head-to-head clash with stablemate, Hurricane Fly, and she could well be aimed at the World Hurdle, in which Mullins has no obvious contender (yet) she has been installed at a price of 10/1 for the Thursday feature.
Willie Mullins had plenty more success over in Ireland on Sunday with some excellent young horses making their mark. Chief among those was the highly exciting Moyle Park who cruised to success in the two mile novice hurdle on his seasonal debut. The five-year-old remains unbeaten and was trimmed from 20/1 into 16/1 for the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a result, although the Neptune remains a possible.
The same owners had more success at Navan with Ballycasey, who won the EBF Beginners Chase over 2m1f. The six-year-old won his first start over fences in good style but he is one that should benefit from going further next time out. The RSA Chase is his likely aim, if he continues to progress, with 16/1 the best price on offer about him winning that race in the Spring.
The weekend was, as always, the highlight of the last seven days but there were one or two horses who also did make an impression mid-week. One of those was certainly Briar Hill who won on his hurdling debut at Wexford last week over 2m2f. The Champion Bumper winner from last season beat very little, but he did it well, and his Supreme Novices Hurdle price for Cheltenhamwas trimmed a point or two as a result.
Other novice hurdlers to impress last week included both Dubai Prince, who won on his hurdling debut, and Regal Encore who did the same for trainer Anthony Honeyball. Regal Encore was second in the Champion Bumper last season and is a best price 20/1 for the Supreme while top flat horse, Dubai Prince, is also around 20/1 for the same race after he won at Leicester.