The Betfair Chase is always one of the best races of the season when it comes to the staying chase division but that is especially the case this weekend, with one of the strongest fields in memory set to clash at Haydock. The eight strong list of entries is jam packed with Grade 1 winners and Cheltenham Festival heroes alike, with many dubbing it a 'mini Gold Cup'. It is the clear highlight of another weekend of important action with the big races coming thick and fast across the UK and Ireland.
As we have already mentioned, it is the Betfair Chase that will rightly attract the most attention this weekend and it is easy to see why. Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth will be making his return to the track against the likes of Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste among others. Bobs Worth was the strong winner of the Gold Cup last season and this will be his first appearance since that famous day back in March.
He is the current favourite to repeat his Gold cup success in the Spring but he will need to be at his best if he is to win the Betfair for the first time. He will be up against Silviniaco Conti who this won 12 months ago and remains a highly talented chaser for Paul Nicholls. He was going well in the Gold Cup before falling three out and he could be a major player here. The same can be said of Dynaste who was a top class novice for David Pipe and Cue Card, who won the Ryanair Chase last season, and is being prepared for the King George next month.
Other horses with entries in the Betfair include veteran chaser Tidal Bay who won the Lexus Chase last season despite his advancing years. The 12-year-old also won on his seasonal debut recently over hurdles while Long Run will also take his chance after flopping in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby. That fact that Long Run can be backed at a double figured price just serves to highlight the remarkable strength of the field this year.
Other horses to look out for on the Haydock card include Rolling Star who will run for Nicky Henderson in the two mile hurdle race at 12.45pm. He was well fancied for the Triumph Hurdle last season before running below par but he could still be one to watch this winter. The same can be said of Gevrey Chambertain who will run for David Pipe in the Fixed Brush Hurdle (2.25pm) which is a race with a classy roll of honour.
As well as Haydock, there is also a top class card to take in down at Ascot on Saturday afternoon. The Amlin Chase is always of interest and it will see the return to the track of the classy Al Ferof. The Paul Nicholls horse has been off track since winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2012 and a good run here could well see he aimed at the Kempton Park on Boxing Day. He won't have it easy though against Captain Chris who himself sets a very strong standard as the runner up in the King George last season.
The other big race on the Ascot card is the Coral Hurdle over 2m3f which is offering up a fascinating duel. Zarkandar is the class horse of the race as a former Triumph hurdle winner but he will be giving weight away to the classy mare Annie Power, who remains unbeaten for trainer Willie Mullins.
The top class action is not just restricted to the UK this weekend with decent cards to take in over in Ireland as well. A number of nice horses are set for a run at Gowran Park on Saturday and at Navan on Sunday so they should be watched closely. They include the exciting Moyle Park who could run in the two mile Maiden Hurdle at Navan on Sunday and he is a horse that could still be anything. He may have only had just the two starts to-date but he has won them both well and has been many experts pick as a dark horse to follow this winter.
The same can certainly be said of Ballycasey who could also run for Willie Mullins at Navan on Sunday. He missed Cheltenham last season despite being well fancied for the Festival staying novice hurdle races and this will be his first start over fences, if he takes his chance. In time, he will want further that the 2m1f on offer here but Ballycasey is certainly a classy animal who is likely to be heading to one of the big novice chases at Cheltenham in the spring.