I’m a massive Coneygree fan and have always admired Cue Card, so I’m a little torn ahead of the Betfair Chase this weekend.
I have a feeling that when they’re both 100 per cent fit, Coneygree will be favoured more by three and a quarter miles around Cheltenham next March. But the three-mile trip at Haydock this weekend could suit Cue Card better.
Coneygree faces a tall order on his first run back for 13 months but he’s a very, very good horse as we saw in his 2015 Gold Cup winning season. You’d imagine that Cue Card will have a race-fitness advantage over him and he has won this contest in 2013 and last year.
Of the others, Irish Cavalier seemed to step up on his form to win the Charlie Hall Chase last month (beat Cue Card into third with a prep run under his belt) but to my mind he has to improve again to win on Saturday.
Maybe he will, but it would be stretching it to think that the horse he beat that day, Menorah, despite his admiral consistency, could win a Gold Cup.
I rode Valsuer Lido when we beat Silviniaco Conti by 11 lengths at Down Royal earlier this month.
Paul Nicholls’ runner started favourite for this contest last year and like Cue Card is a dual winner. He’s very good on his day but will have to recapture his best form to bring up the hat-trick on Saturday.
Tom George’s God’s Own may struggle to see out the 3m trip while SeeyouatMidnight jumps and stays well and looks to be improving. However he has a lot to find on ratings with these proven Grade One performers.
But that’s the beauty of this Triple Crown challenge. The tests this weekend at Haydock, King George VI Chase at Kempton on Dec 26 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup next March all offer three distinct challenges.
Saturday’s race is run on a flat left-handed track with a very long straight that requires a certain amount of stamina. Kempton at Christmas is a much tighter right-handed track while the final leg at Cheltenham next March is over three-and-a quarter miles on an undulating track.
It will take a very good horse to win all three of them. I just fancy a fitter Cue Card to win the first leg on Saturday. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a reversal in the other two.
Thistlecrack did what all novices do and made a couple of mistakes last Saturday at Cheltenham, but I was impressed by the manner in which he won. Any novice chaser will make mistakes but he’ll learn as he goes along and has time to iron them out before the Gold Cup.
Philip Hobbs’ Defi Du Seuil was very good in the Triumph Hurdle Trial on Saturday too and gives JP McManus a strong hand in the main event next March after Joseph O’Brien’s Landofhopeandglory won at Fairyhouse last week.
It’s hard to know in November exactly how strong juvenile form is but at the moment JP looks to be holding all the aces.
We already knew David Pipe’s Moon Racer had a lot of speed as he’s a former Champion Bumper winner but quickened up very well when seeing off Mirsaale and heads the market for the opening contest next March, the Supreme Novice Hurdle.
With the news of Sprinter Sacre’s retirement the Champion Chase title is up for grabs this season. I’ll hopefully be riding Douvan if all goes to plan but Fox Norton looks to be making a bit of a name for himself.
He travelled strongly in the Shloer Chase last Sunday and although he had a fitness advantage over Sizing Tiara – he looked to have the Grade Two contest in the bag before race fitness became an issue.
And that contest has always been a good yardstick for future Champion Chasers.