THE Betfair Chase is fascinating. A Plus Tard is favourite, a deserving favourite, but if this was Cheltenham in March, he would be even shorter than he is. If the ground was softer than it is going to be though, Bristol De Mai would probably be shorter than he is, as would Royale Pagaille. But, as some top-notch manager probably said once, we are where we are.
We know all about Bristol De Mai. Haydock, November, the Betfair Chase. That’s his thing. His record in today’s race reads 1121. His record at Haydock reads 111121. His only defeat at the track was in this race two years ago, when he finished second to a tip-top Lostintranslation, the pair of them 25 lengths clear of Frodon.
Soft or heavy ground does appear to accentuate his superiority at Haydock, but the hypothesis that he needs it bottomless was disproved when he won this race on good ground in 2018, beating Native River and Thistlecrack and Clan Des Obeaux and Might Bite.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse is a Haydock institution, and you know that he will have been trained to be at concert pitch today. This is his Gold Cup.
This is not A Plus Tard’s Gold Cup. The Gold Cup is A Plus Tard’s Gold Cup, and it nearly was last season, when he was the 2 in the Henry de Bromhead 1-2. Even so, this race has been in his diary for a while now, and he can’t be too far off his best. You know that he wouldn’t be travelling if he was.
It’s a balancing act, fit enough to run his race, but also cognisant of the fact that the season runs through to April. Henry de Bromhead is a master at achieving that balance, and the fact that Rachael Blackmore is going to Haydock, instead of going to Gowran Park to ride Bob Olinger in his first chase, is obviously significant.
The Cheveley Park Stud horse is rated 6lb superior to Bristol De Mai, and the magnitude of his superiority over the others is greater. The ground should be perfect and he is going left-handed, the way he wants to go. He is the most likely winner, but 6/4 or 13/8 is about right.
There is a better betting angle to the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle, especially if all 16 runners stand their ground. Rightplacerightime is a fascinating runner. Winner of his maiden hurdle at Naas two years ago for Kevin O’Donnell, he ran The Bosses Oscar close at Thurles last autumn, when he could easily have been awarded the race in the stewards’ room, and when he had Go Another One well behind him in third.
He has raced just three times since he has joined Emmet Mullins, three times over fences, and he improved when he stepped up in trip to three miles last time at Fairyhouse and made all to win his beginners’ chase. It is interesting that his trainer and his owner Paul Byrne have decided to allow him take his chance in this afternoon’s contest, racing off his British handicap rating of 125.
He is short though and, at a much bigger price, Stoney Mountain may represent better value. Stoney Mountain won this race two years ago, when he was trained by Henry Daly and owned by the late Trevor Hemmings. He made a significant mistake at the third last flight that day, and he did remarkably well to stay on as well as he did after that on the run-in to catch Acey Milan and Ask Ben.
Raised to a mark of 144 after that, he unseated his rider in a novices’ chase at Cheltenham’s December meeting, and his first three runs for Jamie Snowden were unremarkable.
He looked much more like his old self last time though, on his seasonal return, when he stayed on well to hold off the late challenge of Didtheyleaveuoutto in a handicap hurdle at Newbury, racing off a mark of 138.
He was raised by 4lb for that to a mark of 142, but that is just 4lb higher than the mark off which he won this race two years ago. He should come on for that Newbury run, his first run of the season. Significantly, he won at Aintree on his seasonal debut two years ago before he went to Haydock and won this race off a 4lb higher mark.
Good to soft ground should be ideal, and he goes well at Haydock, where course form is important. In two runs there, he won this race two years ago, and he finished third behind Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar in the Grade 2 Prestige Novices’ Hurdle there in February 2019.
Before Midnight is the correct favourite for the Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase at Ascot. He is progressive, he won his last two races last season, a bumper and a handicap chase, and he was impressive in making all to win a two-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham in October on his debut this season.
But he is short, and he is up 8lb for that win, and he has never run at Ascot before. His best two runs have been at Chepstow and Chepstow, both left-handed undulating tracks.
By contrast, we know that Monsieur Lecoq goes well at Ascot. He has finished second in all three runs there, and the best run of his life over fences was probably his last run, over today’s course and distance, when he was just caught by Amoola Gold at the end of a fast-run two-mile-one-furlong handicap chase.
He made a significant error at the first fence down the side of the track that day, so he did well to make his ground over the next three fences and move up to challenge the leader Editeur Du Gite on the run to the second last fence.
He got the better of that rival on the run to the last, he looked set for victory, he traded at 1.01 in-running, before he was run down by Amoola Gold.
The handicapper raised Jane Williams’ horse by 3lb for that run to a mark of 135, but that was fair – he raised Amoola Gold by 4lb – and it still leaves him with scope to progress beyond his handicap rating. He is only seven and he has raced just six times over fences.
Also, he was a classy hurdler, he won a Welsh Champion Hurdle and he finished third in a Greatwood Hurdle and he finished second in a Betfair Exchange Trophy, significantly, at Ascot. He reached a peak rating of 151 over hurdles, and that leaves him with plenty of leeway in a chase rating of 135, especially given how relatively lightly-raced he is over fences.
Stoney Mountain, 1 point each-way, 2.25 Haydock, 14/1 (generally)
Monsieur Lecoq, 1 point win, 3.15 Ascot, 6/1 (generally)