Coneygree brings the X-Factor to Saturday’s Betfair Chase.
I saw him school at Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard last Tuesday. He popped over six fences and jumped them really well.
The Bradstock’s are near neighbours of Nicky’s and fancied giving him an ‘away day’ ahead of his comeback run. Their record at bringing horses back from injury is second to none and believe me, Coneygree looked fit. The one thing that may be against him on Saturday is the track.
Haydock used to be a place where trainers were very selective about which horses they brought there as it was a real test of jumping and stamina. But it’s lost a bit of that with the changes that were made a few years ago, the fences aren’t as tough, and the track is a lot tighter.
Even though the ground will soft and that will suit Coneygree, I’d fancy him a lot more if the contest was run at Newbury where the emphasis is on jumping and stamina.
Aidan Coleman is booked to ride Coneygree but if Menorah is withdrawn, Richard Johnson will take over. Coleman looks a future champion jockey to me and is having a great season but Dickie Johnson has won on Coneygree before and that could be crucial.
I’d be looking to get Coneygree ‘flowing’ because he jumps from fence to fence to fence. That’s what he’s good at. Ironically though, his style of racing that could play into his chief rival’s (on paper at least) hands.
Paddy Brennan and Cue Card will be able to slot in behind Coneygree and Silviniaco Conti (a previous dual winner) who also likes to force the pace. Brennan won’t want to get into an eyeball-to-eyeball battle with Coneygree as his mount will get outstayed. Instead, he’ll look to ‘do him’ by accelerating between the second last and final fence and gallop on to the line from there.
I mentioned Irish Cavalier as a lively outsider for the Charlie Hall Chase before he won and he shouldn’t be underestimated, although the ground will be softer than ideal for him. Seeyouatmidnight should handle the conditions can outrun his odds if the principals fail to sparkle.
My heart says Coneygree – I’d really love to see him return to something like his best form – but the head says Cue Card.
Haydock Park undercard
Only four runners line up in the opening TV race at Haydock 1.50pm on the box and really this is My Tent or Yours’ race to lose. He has very good form on soft ground and doesn’t pull as hard as he used to in his races now. He’s getting wiser as he gets older and as Nicky Henderson proved on Friday, now is the time to keep his runners onside.
There’ll be no place for the faint-hearted in the 2m 6f Handicap Hurdle at 2.25pm where the ground should play into Dan Skelton’s Two Taffs’ hands. He’ll make a great chaser in time too.
However, I’ve always liked Seamus Mullins’ Western Cape and backed him at 33/1 when he won his maiden hurdle at Ascot 12 months ago. He’d a nice seasonal debut behind David Pipe’s Herbert Park at Worcester last month and together with Western Warrior is one for each-way backers.
The TV finale at 3.35pm could be a real slog in a bog. Venetia Williams’ Saroque finished fourth in the Welsh National last January so won’t mind slugging it out on heavy ground. He’s making his seasonal bow but won first time out last season and should have no problems with the underfoot conditions.
Yanworth makes his seasonal bow in the Coral Hurdle 2.40pm and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win. Connections have the option of going for the Champion Hurdle or World Hurdle but there’s no need to rush into that decision.
Willie Mullins has the two previous winners of the Champion Hurdle looking over the half door at Closutton in Annie Power & Faugheen. The World Hurdle looks more open but at this stage of the season you want to keep all your options open for the Festival.
There’s a good reason why God’s Own has switched to Ascot 2.05pm. He loves going right-handed and the better ground and 2m 5f trip suits him way better than a 3m slog at Haydock. He’s the highest rated in the race but I think he’s a better horse in the Spring and wouldn’t take too short odds about him. Vibrato Valtat could be the alternative.
Former Champion chaser Sire De Grugy is the star attractions in the Handicap Chase at Ascot 3.15pm but Vaniteux has a good record first time out. He’s a smart horse on his day, didn’t get much luck last season and I think he’ll win.