A FEAST of jump racing lies ahead this weekend, with terrific cards at both Ascot, where their highlight is the Amlin 1965 Chase with Master Minded defending his crown, and at Haydock, featuring the Grade 1 Betfair Chase, where Gold Cup and King George hero Long Run is scheduled to make his seasonal debut.
Haydock’s Betfair Chase day has a fantastic card. The Betfair Hurdle race is where GRANDOUET can regain his reputation after coming down at Wincanton last time out, handing Celestial Halo the race. He was absolutely cantering in behind when misjudging the second last and would have been a definite winner in my eyes. He is all class this French import, as he showed last year when winning the Irish equivalent of the Triumph Hurdle at Punchestown in May, after decent previous efforts at Cheltenham and Aintree. I think he is a lively consider for this years Champion Hurdle, and is one to stay on the right side of.
Betfair have also sponsored the handicap at 1.55, which has a decent turn out. I am very sweet on the Reveley family’s EYRE SQUARE. He won a novice hurdle on his seasonal beau. He then ran well in a chase, finishing second to a well handicapped horse. The favourite finished third that day and the three pulled 43 lengths clear. Eyre Square rallied and stayed on, and the extended three and a half miles should suit this resolute galloper, who has remained on a nice figure of 120.
The Betfair Chase has developed into a jewel in the crown of the National Hunt season and this year’s event looks like living up to that billing. Long Run is the very short favourite, too short for a horse who disappointed in the Paddy Power last season, running after a 241 day absence. The drying ground could prove a worry for Diamond Harry, who loves running fresh and is 2/2 at Haydock.
KAUTO STAR won this race two years ago and when the 11-year-old is at his best he is still a horse sitting at the top table of British chasing. He has won first time out on both the last two seasons, Down Royal last year, and in this race two years ago. Trainer Paul Nicholls is adamant he has been working like his old self and he could turn out to be significantly over-priced at the current 8/1.
Switching attention to Ascot, and the first race, the novices chase. The Nicky Henderson trained MUSH MIR, who came from James Boyle on the flat, showed at Southwell he is a good prospect. He has made a successful transition to hurdling, and is now 3/3 in novice hurdles. He attempts a step up in class but, as his winning distances of 32 lengths for his three races indicate, he may well have better things ahead of him.
Similar sentiments apply to OSCAR WHISKEY, who runs in the Coral Hurdle, a Grade Two contest. This Welsh Champion Hurdle and Aintree Hurdle winner is rated 165 and is being aimed at a clash with Big Bucks in the World Hurdle. His only defeats in the last two years have come in the Champion Hurdle to Hurricane Fly (3rd) and to Menorah in the Supreme Novices (4th). He should be too classy for the likes of Celestial Halo and Overturn.
MASTER MINDED could be overpriced in the Amlin Chase, largely due to his disappointing reappearance run at Aintree. The 8-year-old, who won this same race in impressive fashion last term, appears to need soft ground over two miles or two and a half miles these days to be shown at his best and he should get his preferred conditions on Saturday.
He has won his second run of the season, using the first as a tune up, on each of the last three seasons, and although the likes of Somersby, who chased him home in the Victor Chandler, and Arkle winner Captain Chris are young guns snapping at his heels, hopefully Master Minded, still no pensioner at only eight, can show he retains plenty class.
12.15 (Haydock) Grandouet (Nap)
12.25 (Ascot) Mush Mir
2.10 (Ascot) Master Minded (Nb)
2.45 (Ascot) Oscar Whiskey
1.55 (Haydock) Eyre Square (Ew)
3.05 (Haydock) Kauto Star (Ew)