Cue Card, Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti – first, second and third in last year’s Betfair Lancashire Chase – meet again in Haydock’s important early pointer to this season’s major honours, but predicting today’s outcome is nothing like as simple as one-two-three.
Much has happened in the past 12 months to alter perspective – highs and lows on the track and, in Cue Card’s case, a long spell on the sidelines with a pelvic injury. In short, none of the three, in terms of reputation, has gained an enduring edge over the others in the meantime.
Both Cue Card, on his Exeter comeback, and Silviniaco Conti, in a messy affair at Wetherby, underwhelmed on their seasonal returns, but their trainers are expecting much better now.
“All my horses have improved for a run this season and I know Cue Card has as well,” said Colin Tizzard, while Paul Nicholls, whose Kauto Star won this race four times, is equally confident of significant improvement.
Silviniaco Conti (3.00 Haydock), the winner of this contest in 2012 and so impressive when comprehensively outstaying Cue Card in the King George VI Chase last winter, has looked a little lazy on more recent starts and the fitting of cheekpieces for the first time, might well make a telling difference.
In what is by no means just a three-horse race, perhaps the most potent challenge to the old guard will come from Taquin Du Seuil, ridden today by Barry Geraghty, who deputises for the injured Tony McCoy, who is set to return next week.
The New One (1.50 Haydock) and Faugheen (2.40 Ascot), the pair disputing favouritism for the Champion Hurdle, are in action this afternoon and it will be fascinating to compare performances.
Neither faces a difficult task on paper, but competition is serious enough to demand proper focus. The New One is prone to a sloppy jump when a good leap is most needed, while the rising Irish star Faugheen will need to treat hurdles with considerably more respect than he did last time as a novice if he is to go right to the top.
Katkeau, attempting to give trainer David Pipe a fourth Fixed Brush Hurdle victory in five years, will be popular with punters and a tough nut to crack, but the outsider Shimla Dawn (2.25 Haydock), a gutsy and improving young hurdler, has been crying out for this step up to three miles.
Bellenos (3.15, Ascot) can jump much better than he did when fourth behind Ulck Du Lin at the same track three weeks ago and might well gain his revenge on these better weight terms.
The Betfair Chase at Haydock is live on Channel 4 Racing todayReuse content