He has won 15 races and amassed total prize-money of more than three-quarters of a million pounds.
He has won a Bet 365 (Whitbread) Gold Cup, a Lexus Chase and an Arkle Trophy, as well as assorted other races at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. He has also finished runner-up in the Tingle Creek, the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Betfair Chase, which he again contests at Haydock this afternoon. Yet they still call Tidal Bay “a bit of a dog” (that’s not a compliment).
If there has been a horse more talented at such a range of disciplines and distances since Night Nurse was doing the rounds more than 30 years ago, its name escapes me. Or more durable. Since getting touched off in the Aintree Champion Bumper back in 2006, Tidal Bay has won major pots over hurdles and fences from two miles to three miles six furlongs, on ground from good through to heavy.
But though his impressive form figures – long rows of 1s and 2s – scream consistency and reliability, this horse for every occasion has never been trusted entirely. His jumping is perfectly sound; the only time he has failed to complete in 39 starts was in a Grand National. It’s just that he occasionally appears to be on the verge of downing tools and his victories have usually been attributed as much to the nursing and cajoling of riders such as Ruby Walsh, who conjured a sensational late surge out of him in last season’s Lexus, as they have been to his own outstanding ability.
As often as not, there is a physical reason for what can come across as sheer bloody-mindedness and trainer Paul Nicholls believes that Tidal Bay (3.00 Haydock) is now free of whatever was bothering him and ready to take on the very best, including his high-class stablemate, Silviniaco Conti, in today’s feature.
A faller three fences from home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last spring when seemingly travelling better than the eventual winner, Bobs Worth – whose stamina had yet to kick in – Silviniaco Conti has an early chance of revenge, with Nicky Henderson also letting his champion loose in Lancashire as a first step towards retaining his crown.
Long Run, Cue Card and The Giant Bolster are certainly not out of place in this exalted company, while David Pipe believes that Dynaste, one of last season’s leading novices, is also deserving of a seat at the top table
But though just a few weeks short of his official 13th birthday, Tidal Bay seems every bit as good as ever and may well have at least one more trick up his sleeve to confound punters before he is finally done.
Soft ground will help, if only to slow the others down and enable him to get back in the game if he does have one of his mid-race funny turns. And if he is still within sniffing distance at the last fence, then stand by for a late greyhound pounce – an “old dog” having yet another one of his days.
Haydock also features three Betfair-sponsored televised handicap puzzles for punters to get their teeth into, including the valuable “Fixed Brush” Hurdle, which may go to Lie Forrit (2.25 Haydock), a decisive winner last time and appealingly weighted on the best of his old form. Two Rockers looks the main danger.
Special Catch (1.50 Haydock) has conditions to suit after his pleasing return at Aintree recently and is narrowly preferred to Zuider Zee, while it would be no great surprise to see Relax (3.35 Haydock) bounce back with a win in the handicap chase after biting off more than he could chew on his final two starts last season.
Willie Mullins’ wonderful mare Quevega has won at the last five Cheltenham Festivals and is a short price to extend that remarkable sequence in March.
And if she is to be dethroned, it is quite likely to be by another Mullins-trained mare, Annie Power (2.40 Ascot). Is this the new Queen in waiting? We’ll know a lot more after she has taken on Zarkandar, a thoroughly consistent and high-class yardstick, in the Coral Hurdle, but certainly her progress through the ranks in Ireland has been stately – seven imposing wins out of seven.