Haydock Park stages Britain’s first Grade One race of the season on Saturday, the Betfair Chase, in what promises to be superb renewal.
There’s also action from Huntingdon on Saturday and Exeter on Sunday, with every race from all three meetings live on Racing TV.
Here we take a look at five things you need to know before the runners and riders head off to the start.
LOSTINTRANSLATION BIDS TO REPEAT 2019 VICTORY
If you’re a regular reader of this column then you’ll know (field) size doesn’t matter to us. There might only be five runners going to post in Saturday’s Betfair Chase, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s another fascinating renewal of this race.
Lostintranslation and jockey Robbie Power won last year in impressive fashion and went on to finish third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. His preparation was slightly different 12 months ago in that he’d already won the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle by this stage of the season.
This term trainer Colin Tizzard has opted to start him out at Haydock in one of the biggest races of the season, but that hasn’t phased punters who have backed him in to a general 5-4 already.
It’s easy to see why Bristol De Mai is a 2-1 second favourite, having finished a close second last year and winning the 2017 and 2018 renewals to cement his place in Betfair Chase history.
This race is the first leg of The Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown, which also includes the Ladbrokes King George VI at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Only one horse has ever achieved that feat – Kauto Star for 11 times champion trainer Paul Nicholls. And it’s the Ditcheat trainer who has the potential winner of the first two legs of that treble this year in Clan Des Obeaux.
‘Clan’ was disappointingly fourth of five in this race two years ago but has won the King George for the past two years, so if the ground is to his liking on Saturday his class may tell.
Worth noting that Nicholls, though, has already ruled out a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2021 with him and has other targets in mind instead.
PIPE DREAMS OF NINE IN A ROW FOR MAIN FACT
From a race with five contenders we now take a look at one with 19 runners – the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle.
Relegate will be familiar to fans of the Cheltenham Festival, having won the Champion Bumper in 2018.
He’s left the yard of Willie Mullins since then and is now trained by Colm Murphy, who watched his seven-year-old run a solid fifth in the Pertemps Network Final Hurdle at this year’s Festival. When you consider he has already had an outing this season at Navan he could well be among the best prepared for this.
Fergal O’Brien is enjoying the form of his life as a trainer after moving to a new purpose built yard and has two good chances in this – the 16-1 chance Ask Dillon and Imperial Alcazar, who might just go off favourite come 2.25pm on Saturday.
There are others who catch the eye, notably the experienced Wholestone for Nigel Twiston-Davies and jockey Daryl Jacob and Amy Murphy’s Kalashnikov, who finished an agonising second on his last outing over hurdles in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in 2018. He’s been novice chasing since then but finds himself over smaller obstacles here.
But perhaps the most intriguing of those lining up is Main Fact for David Pipe, who won this race in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Main Fact is on course for an extraordinary ninth consecutive win, having won his last five starts over hurdles last season and following it up with three wins on the Flat this summer.
Every single one of those victories has been on soft or heavy ground and with the same going expected at Haydock this Saturday he’s hard to look past.
NICHOLLS HOPES TOMMYTUCKER HAS MASTERED FENCES
Paul Nicholls isn’t an 11 times champion trainer for nothing and in the great Cyrname he’s transformed a horse with temperament issues into a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.
At the age of nine no one is suggesting such heroics from Master Tommytucker, although Nicholls seems to have performed similar wonders when it comes to improving the way he jumps fences.
His form for the past two seasons has included more F’s than an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares the favourite, but with a second to his name and a strong performance in winning a two-runner race at Huntingdon 10 days ago the Back And Lay On Betfair Exchange Graduation Chase at 1.15pm looks made for him.
It won’t be a stroll in the park. Dashel Drasher was consistent over hurdles and won here at Haydock in December last year, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s not been on a racecourse since.
And Good Boy Bobby for the Twiston-Davies/Jacob combination will be worth considering, if we trust he can compete over the 2m5f – the longest trip he’s attempted in his career.
ROCCO CAN WIN COMPETITIVE CONTEST AT HUNTINGDON
Huntingdon is gearing up for its feature race of the season, the Fitzdares Peterborough Chase on Sunday 6th December, and this Saturday sees some competitive racing at the Cambridgeshire course kicking off as early as 11.45am
One of the trickiest races to call might be the 1.23pm Best Odds Guaranteed At MansionBet Handicap Chase, over 2m3f.
Six runners are expected at post but you could virtually throw a blanket over the field in terms of odds, with four of them shorter than 6-1.
Tom George’s Rock On Rocco certainly appeals after winning at the course on soft ground in February and finishing second at Kempton only last month. The only concern might be that this is the furthest he’s attempted.
Fairway Freddie is certainly used to the trip, if not the course, and trainer Nick Gifford will have been encouraged by a second place at Wincanton 27 days ago. The concern might be that he’s used to firmer ground than he will get on Saturday.
The other two of note would be Sizing Cusimano and Glance Back, although with both returning to the track after more than 250 days off both are entitled to need the run.
HONEYBALL COULD NET HANDICAP CHASE AT EXETER
Anthony Honeyball is one of those trainers who always seems to get the best out of his horses and this season has showcased exactly that.
Le Couer Net could therefore be just the ticket at Exeter on Sunday in the Racing TV HD On Sky 426 Handicap Chase.
This eight-year-old has put in a remarkable number of performances at Sussex tracks – Plumpton, Fontwell Park and Lingfield – but has also proved pretty consistent over the years.
It would be asking a lot for him to bounce back from winning at Plumpton only four days ago on heavy ground, but his CV shows this isn’t the first quick turnaround of his career.
Others to note would include Jonjo O’Neill’s Tidal Watch and Keiran Burke’s Mine’s A Pint, but perhaps the pick of the field is Equus Millar for Nigel Twiston-Davies and jockey son Sam.
Having put in some smart performances in 2018 he was a little disappointing last term. After a fourth last month at Wetherby the Twiston-Davies team will be hoping he can find his way into the winners’ enclosure once again.