Brendan Duke: We’ve grounds for optimism for Might Bite’s return

A mini Gold Cup at Haydock is the highlight this weekend as the big jumps races come thick and fast. But the Dukemeister is all over it ...

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Ironically enough, the Betfair Chase is a mouth-watering prospect due to the ground. An exceptionally dry Autumn has left us with basically good ground.

There is no rain due over the weekend, either.

At this time of year Haydock is traditionally twinned with the Amazon basin.

Last year connections of Might Bite decided not to run in this race. A £1 million pound bonus was not enough to tempt them into running their pride and joy on a swamp. While I usually despair of wrapping horses in cotton wool, it’s hard not to agree with that decision.

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Bristol De Mai came home on his own in last year’s renewal. Much was made of the exalted performance figures given to that effort. I had no problem with them. Bristol is borderline invincible granted heavy ground on this track. Might Bite went on to win the King George and finish a gallant runner up in the Gold Cup.

His conqueror at Cheltenham also makes an appearance on Saturday at 3pm. Native River had an unusually quiet campaign last term. He vindicated that strategy with one of the great Gold Cup performances. He returns to the coalface earlier this season. With luck, his rivalry with Might Bite could see another three installments this campaign. Might Bite is by far the most likely winner on Saturday.

He has a four-length deficit to make up on Native River. Saturday’s race will be run on better ground, over a furlong shorter trip, on a speed favouring track. These factors should tip the balance in favour of Henderson’s charge. I was concerned that the Gold Cup effort would leave a mark on Might Bite. His subsequent win in Aintree suggests it may have improved him.

I backed Bristol De Mai that day and saw him put in an unusually error free round of jumping. Somehow Might Bite still took lengths out of him at almost every fence. Only a blunder at the fourth-last stopped it being one of the great fencing displays. There are valid reasons for thinking Native River can improve again this season.

To win on Saturday, he’ll need to. Bristol De Mai shouldn’t be good enough on this surface. I rarely play at short prices, finding it harder to discern value. However, I’m confident that Might Bite has a significantly better than 50/50 chance and he looks a bet at even money.

The supporting card looks pretty tasty too. First Assignment leaps off the page in the three-mile handicap hurdle at 2.25pm. He’s officially 8 lbs well in after caning the bookies when romping home at Cheltenham last weekend.

First-Assignment

He’ll obviously take some stopping but hasn’t been missed in the market. Also the eight declared runners makes this an attractive each-way race. Paisley Park catches my eye. This is a very talented horse. Unfortunately headstrong tendencies and a preference for going through rather than over the obstacles have held him back.

His comeback win at Aintree suggests he may be about to realise his potential. The low sun meant he had fewer hurdles to jump and he was a bit clumsy at times. In the main though he jumped much better. He also looked more relaxed. He couldn’t have won any easier and a 7lb rise looks fair.

As a six-year-old, on just the seventh start of his career, improvement is very likely. The step up in trip looks a positive too. At 9/2 in early trading, he looks overpriced to me.

Ascot has the potential to be a cracking card too. Politologue and Min head the betting for the Grade 2 chase at 2.05 pm.

A repeat of their classic duel at Aintree would be something to savour. There shouldn’t be much between them in the betting but there is. That would suggest Paddy have some doubts about Min’s participation.

Trying to second guess that stable would land a man in therapy.

Min

So I’ll wait for declarations on Friday.

We can reasonably expect to see Laurina in the Ascot Hurdle at 2.40 pm. Again the potential opposition looks strong. We Have A Dream and If The Cap Fits will test her Champion Hurdle credentials. She looked very good at Cheltenham. The form probably doesn’t amount to much though. Laurina’s stablemate Cut The Mustard appeared to run as a dedicated spoiler against main rival Maria’s Benefit. That tactic appeared to work.

The final tip comes on Sunday.

As with Noddy and Toytown, so it’s Gelliot and Troytown.

The master of Cullentra House looks for five-in-a-row on Sunday. He ran 11 horses last year. The clip is likely to be emptied this time around too. He currently has 14 entered. The one that catches my eye is Dounikos. Recent form figures of PPP are uninspiring. Indeed, emoji users would suggest the horse is taking the piss out of his supporters.

Dounikos-Flogas-Chase

I backed him in the RSA at Cheltenham. The first of those non finishes. However I’m willing to go again on Sunday. This tale could still end with a smiley face. He clearly wasn’t himself in the Spring. If Elliot can get him back to the form of his closing fourth in the Flogas Chase at Leopardstown, the horse must have a right chance off a mark of 150.

That race proved to be very strong form. He goes well fresh and I always like the class angle in handicaps. The 16/1 looks a fair price but no harm waiting until final declarations to back him. He shouldn’t shorten much in the betting. At a Cheltenham preview night this year, Elliott stated the horse was ‘slow as a hearse’.

He’s unlikely to start talking him up now.

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