The National Hunt season has been gradually cranking through the gears and the quality steps up a level on Saturday with the Betfair Chase. There will no Kauto Star, the four-time winner and dual Gold Cup hereo now enjoying retirement, but we have two Gold Cup victors in the line-up – Long Run and Imperial Commander.
Imperial Commander has more to prove, having not raced since being pulled up in Long Run’s Gold Cup of 2011, but connections have been making positive noises. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is unlikely to send him to Haydock well short of fitness, given the problems he has had, so expect a bold show if he is indeed anywhere near as good as he was.
Long Run looked a superstar when winning the Gold Cup last year, but did not look the same horse in the following season. He was still good enough to finish second in the Betfair Chase and King George VI Chase (both behind Kauto Star) and third in the Gold Cup. He’s still only seven and if trainer Nicky Henderson has been able to sweeten him up, he could make short work of his eight rivals.
The dark horse in the field is Paul Nicholls’ Silviniaco Conti, who will face a test of his credentials having made the leap from novice to open company with an impressive win in the Charlie Hall Chase. He’s the early 11/4 second favourite behind 5/4 jolly Long Run and if he is to make his mark at the highest level, he’ll have to be in the firing line at the weekend.
Nicholls has another string to his bow in Tidal Bay but he is not a horse who can be selected with any confidence. He could easily take a hand at the finish, although there is every chance he could throw in a stinker. The Giant Bolster is the same price as Tidal Bay, 10/1 with bet365, and he has a second in a Gold Cup on his CV. But there is a niggling feeling that Long Run was not at his best that day and I just cannot see him finishing in front of the Henderson horse.
Weird Al, Midnight Chase, Wayward Prince and Cannington Brook make up the field but it would be a disappointment if any of them were to win.