1pt win Cue Card @2/1, 15:00 Haydock, Saturday

Haydock’s Betfair Chase is the first Grade 1 of the English jumps season, run over three miles of mud, and this year’s renewal will be as testing as it is classy.

Dual-winner and reigning champ Cue Card trades favourite after defeat on reappearance to the also-present Irish Cavalier in the Charley Hall.

He had to concede 10lbs to the winner that day and the recent rain has ensured it’ll be far more testing ground than at Wetherby, so Irish Cavalier will have to defy all known form on such a surface to confirm the placings.

I’m happy to take all Cue Card’s excuses for defeat that day, particularly Irish Cavalier having already had a run, and expect Colin Tizzard’s stable-star to improve plenty for it.

He’s a rock-solid favourite despite being a ten-year-old, but there’s always the risk the younger generation could overtake him at this late stage of his career – a risk made all the more likely after defeats on his two previous starts.

So is 2/1 value and who could we take him on with?

The obvious place to start is Coneygree, 2015’s Gold Cup winner, who only raced once last season before injury sidelined him.

That run was a brilliant spin around Sandown, where he beat good horses with ease to confirm that gruelling Gold Cup hadn’t left it’s mark – as it seems to have done with the third, Road To Riches.

That was billed as a vintage renewal and the form was done no harm when the 8th went on to win the Hennessy, the seventh won the Grade 1 Bowl at Aintree, and the sixth won the Grand National under top-weight.

Perhaps the form-line has been devalued since given second-placed Djakadam has since been beaten in all three starts over three-miles-plus, but one of those runs includes a second to Don Cossack in the Gold Cup and he hasn’t had his favoured soft ground in any of them – Coneygree’s Gold Cup was run on soft.

A race with Coneygree is nothing like a typical Grade 1 staying chase, as he pours it on from the front and has slower horses beaten from the first fence.

Whilst his remorseless gallop can outpace foes, the pressure it puts on their jumping is usually the killer, and you’d be mad to back anything against it that isn’t slick over fences.

Call me mad but that’s my reservation with Cue Card, as he’s never been a slick jumper or smooth traveller.

Connections insist that’s the only way to ride Coneygree so we can expect Richard Johnson to try to dominate from the front, meaning the horse will be asking himself a big question of his own stamina.

That’s perhaps the question for punters – and it’s really anyone’s guess whether he’ll be fit enough to last the duration – and as a 2/1 second-favourite I can’t say that’s value.

Seeyouatmidnight has been well supported all week and I was very tempted at the 16/1 available last weekend, given this was the touted target after his impressive reappearance at Carlisle.

Sadly that price has long gone so it’s too late to jump on the bandwagon, but he remains a threat with the heavy ground in his favour and the way he jumped around Carlisle suggests he might have the assets to deal with Coneygree.

I quietly fancy Silviniaco Conti’s chances in this race after a decent reappearance in a fairly strong Grade 1 at Down Royal.

He came second and was soundly beaten by the winner Valseur Lido, but jumped brilliantly and just didn’t get home after making all the running.

The issue is he is an out-and-out stayer and pace isn’t his asset.

He won’t be allowed to lead and, based on his seventh in Coneygree’s Gold Cup, I’m not sure he can go Coneygree pace – nor Cue Card’s for that matter, after he was so easily brushed aside in this race last season.


Overall, the heart says Coneygree but the head says CUE CARD is your winner at what is now a perfectly backable price of 2/1 with Betway.

If Coneygree stays the full three miles at his own pace then big questions will be asked of Cue Card, but I keep coming back to the idea that an on-song Cue Card would represent the best opponent the Gold Cup winner has ever met, and that’s a tall order indeed after such a long layoff.

1pt win Cue Card @2/1, 15:00 Haydock, Saturday (BetWay)

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