The most exciting new weekend of jump racing ever created in Britain, the North West Masters, is launched today (Wednesday, October 12) by Haydock Park and Aintree Racecourses, with the first-ever £1-million chasing bonus.
Haydock stages the initial day of the North West Masters on Saturday, November 19, and the thrilling feature is the new £150,000 Betfair Chase - the first time that an additional Grade One chase has been established.
The three-mile Betfair Chase is also the initial leg of the Betfair Million, the first £1-million bonus in jump racing, which also involves winning the Stan James King George VI Chase at Sandown on December 26 and the totesport Gold Cup at Cheltenham on March 17.
Haydock also stages the most valuable three-mile handicap hurdle run in Britain, the £70,000 betfairpoker.com Handicap Hurdle, on the same seven-race card which starts at 12.40pm.
Aintree the next day, Sunday, November 20, has another fabulous set of races, headed by the £100,000 totesport Becher Chase and the £60,000 totepool Grand Sefton Chase, both of which take place over the world famous Grand National fences and are being staged on the same day for the first time. The first race that day takes place at 1.05pm.
Thanks to support of the tote, both races have gone up significantly in value, with the totesport Becher Chase, run over three miles and three furlongs, rising by £25,000 and the two mile, six furlong totepool Grand Sefton Chase getting a £10,000 boost.
The weekend boasts a tremendous prize money total of £537,500, making the exciting meeting one of the most valuable two days in the British jumping calendar.
Adam Waterworth, Managing Director of Haydock Park Racecourse, said today: "Haydock Park is the North's leading dual purpose course and has a real jump racing heritage.
"We are enhancing that further by introducing this brand new Grade One chase, the Betfair Chase, which not only has tremendous prize money but is the first leg of the sensational Betfair Million bonus.
"The aim is to attract the best chasers to Haydock Park on November 19 and we are very encouraged by the responses of trainer and owners. Connections of Kicking King and Best Mate, winners of the last four totesport Cheltenham Gold Cups, are keen to run as are manyothers.
“Betfair’s backing has been crucial in creating the new race and the Betfair Million is a great incentive to run.
"This is the first time that Haydock Park and Aintree Racecourses have linked up and the result is the North West Masters which is also being generously supported by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the Mersey Partnership, Sefton Council, and St Helens Council.
"A special programme of off-course activity - including a free pop concert by The Bootleg Beatles and Texas in St Helens town centre on the Saturday evening - has been organised in conjunction with the local authorities, and the whole package promises to attract bumper crowds to the North West of England for the weekend."
Charles Barnett, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, added: "Racing at Aintree is always a unique and exciting experience and the North West Masters will be no exception.
“Aintree, world famous because of the John Smith's Grand National meeting, has tremendous racing over the Grand National fences on the second day of the North West Masters, thanks to the tote's backing.
"Sunday, November 20, will be the only day in our calendar - outside the Grand National Meeting in April - to witness races over the Grand National course.
"With Haydock Park and Aintree both putting on spectacular racing, the North West Masters will be a magnet for racing fans and newcomers to the sport, with accompanied children aged under 16 admitted free to all enclosures on both days.
"We look forward to welcoming everyone and building on the inaugural North West Masters in the years to come."
The launch took place today at Henrietta Knight’s stable near Wantage in Oxfordshire where Best Mate, the three-time totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, paraded.
Best Mate is on target for the Betfair Chase along with Kicking King, who won the 2005 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, plus plenty of other top chasers.
Henrietta Knight said: “Best Mate is quite fresh at the moment - he looks bigger than usual but then he is older.
“I don’t expect him to win at Exeter on November 1 because of the distance of that race but it would be wonderful if he did.
“He does not have the toe that he did when he was younger but there is nowhere else to run. If Kicking King goes for the Betfair Chase, we don’t want to be a race behind when we meet him there.
“It would be asking a lot to go there without a race. Best Mate is a very good horse and a proven one, provided there is no reoccurrence of him breaking blood vessels.
“He was still sick when he bled in March. I have had horses who have bled and have never done so again.
“Best Mate is out every afternoon getting fresh air and that keeps him healthy which is the key. Kicking King is a superb horse but we still think the world of Best Mate. Maybe it is an advantage that he has low mileage.
”It is a joy to see him come out each morning because he looks like he owns the world.”
The two courses involved in the North West Masters, Haydock Park and Aintree, are owned by Racecourse Holdings Trust, the Jockey Club's racecourse group.
Looking ahead to the inaugural running of the North West Masters, Andrew Coppel, Chief Executive of RHT, said: “This is a very exciting initiative which will raise the profile of jump racing. The RHT Review in 2004 called for a better balanced jump racing programme, with major events being staged away from the spring festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree.
"The North West Masters absolutely fits these criteria in the shape of a progressive and enterprising initiative by Haydock Park and Aintree. It looks set to establish itself immediately as a key weekend in the jumping calendar."
TOTESPORT BECHER CHASE ALREADY PROVING AN ATTRACTION
The totesport Becher Chase is the highlight of day two of the North West Masters on the weekend of November 19 and 20.
The Aintree showpiece, run over three miles and three furlongs of the Grand National course, has received a £25,000 boost this year and is worth £100,000, while the same day’s totepool Grand Sefton Chase, now in its third year, has an increased prize of £60,000.
Rheindross, winner of the Britannia Building Society Summer National for trainer Charlie Mann in June, is being aimed at the totesport Becher Chase.
The 10-year-old, a three-time winner when trained in Ireland by Arthur Moore, arrived at Mann’s yard at the end of May. The gelding ran third in a two mile, five furlong handicap chase at Worcester on his debut for his new stable before scoring a surprise victory in Uttoxeter’s four-mile highlight on June 26.
Mann has opted to target the totesport Becher Chase rather than travel to the Czech Republic for the Velka Pardubicka last weekend.
The trainer commented: “He was bought at Doncaster Sales with a view to running in the Pardubicka but we’ve decided to shelve the Czech race and go for the totesport Becher Chase. I think the Aintree fences will suit the horse and he proved at Uttoxeter that he stays well.”
Stablemate Merchant’s Friend, a faller in last season’s John Smith’s Grand National, could join Rheindross in the race.
Forest Gunner captured the 2004 Grand Sefton Handicap Chase under Peter Buchanan and the Aintree specialist is firing on all cylinders ahead of a tilt at the totesport Becher Chase.
The Richard Ford-trained chaser has won on two of his three starts over the Grand National course and carried trainer’s wife Carrie Ford to fifth place in last season’s John Smith’s Grand National. The 11-year-old captured the Martell Cognac Fox Hunters’ Chase, with Carrie up, in 2004 and also won a novices’ hurdle at Aintree in 2001.
Ford has the North West Masters weekend at the top of Forest Gunner’s agenda. The trainer said: “His first scheduled outing for this season will be the totesport Becher Chase. He will also have an entry in the Betfair Chase at Haydock the day before but first preference is for the Becher because he runs so well round Aintree.
“I couldn’t be happier with Forest Gunner. He’s bang on schedule and I’m delighted. Peter Buchanan is unbeaten on him in two rides, so if he’s available, I don’t see why that partnership shouldn’t continue.
“If Peter’s not available then hopefully Graham Lee or Richard McGrath, who have both ridden him, would be able to take the ride. I don’t think there’s a shortage of people who would like to ride him. He’s very straightforward anyway.”
Ford has the totesport Becher Chase as the number one target for his charge and does not want to look too far ahead.
He explained: “I want to see how he shapes that weekend and take it from there. I don’t know about the Grand National - he didn’t get the trip last year and there’s no reason why he’ll get it next spring.”
Amberleigh House has emerged as the Aintree specialist of recent seasons. The 13-year-old has had nine outings over the big Aintree fences, notably when winning the Grand National in 2004 after coming third the previous year, and the totesport Becher Chase is his prime target this season.
Trained by Ginger McCain, famed for his handling of three-time Grand National hero Red Rum, Amberleigh House won the totesport Becher Chase in 2001 and has since finished second, third and fifth in the race.
Donald McCain, assistant trainer to his father reports Amberleigh House to be in fine form ahead of his fifth attempt at the prize. McCain said: “He summered really well and is very much on course for the Becher Chase. He only really comes alive at Aintree now but he seems to retain all his enthusiasm.
McCain hopes that Amberleigh House will return to Aintree in the spring for the Grand National but is aware that nothing can be taken for granted with a horse in the veteran stage of his career: “The Grand National is a long way off so the only plan is the Becher Chase and then we’ll see how we go from there. He’s 13 now so any long-term targets are subject to how he runs in the Becher Chase. He gets in the race off a much lower weight than he would in the Grand National.”
The totesport Becher Chase was first staged in 1992 when the Sue Smith-trained Kildimo won and the same trainer took the prize again in 2002 with Ardent Scout. Nigel Twiston-Davies has saddled the winner of the race on three occasions beginning with Indian Tonic in 1993, then Young Hustler in 1995 and Earth Summit in 1998, adding the prize to his Grand National triumph earlier in the year.
THE NORTH WEST MASTERS PROGRAMME
Haydock, Saturday, November 19, 2005
12.40pm £20,000 J. W. Lees Jump v Flat Jockeys Handicap Hurdle 2m
1.15pm £25,000 Gordon Plant Memorial Newton Novices’ Hurdle 2m
3.25pm £20,000 Edward Hanmer Memorial Handicap Chase 2m
3.55pm £2,500 Bert Stafford Memorial National Hunt Flat Race 2m
Aintree, Sunday, November 20, 2005
1.05pm £15,000 Weatherbys Bank Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle 2m 110yds
1.40pm £60,000 totepool Grand Sefton Handicap Chase 2m 5f 110yds
2.15pm £25,000 William Hill/Stanleybet Children In Need Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f
2.50pm £100,000 totesport Becher Chase 3m 3f
3.20pm £15,000 Intersky Novices’ Chase 2m
3.50pm £10,000 Ennis Construction Novices’ Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f
Henrietta Knight took out a full training licence in 1989 for her farm at West Lockinge near Wantage in Oxfordshire and has developed into one of the country’s foremost jump trainers.
It is with Best Mate that Knight will always be associated. The former Irish point-to-pointer was bought on behalf of Jim Lewis, one of Knight’s earliest supporters, in 1999 and has gone on to deliver a string of big-race successes including three successive totesport Cheltenham Gold Cups, chasing’s championship event.
In 2004, Best Mate became the first horse since the legendary Arkle in the 1960s to win chasing’s Blue Riband three times and, despite missing last season’s renewal, if he is successful again in 2006, he will join the great Golden Miller in becoming only the second horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup more than three times.
Henrietta Knight was born on December 15, 1946, and had an affinity with horses from an early age. She got a taste for training when sharpening up a retired chaser, Rowland Ward, owned by her mother, to win the members’ race of the 1964 Old Berkshire Hunt point-to-point which was staged at Lockinge.
She became involved in the eventing world and rode Blitzkrieg to finish 12th at Badminton in 1973, going on to become a judge at Burghley and then chairing the British three-day event Olympic selection committee from 1984 until 1988.
Knight had also qualified as a schoolteacher and spent four years teaching history and biology locally at St Mary’s, Wantage, before setting up a horse livery business in 1974, initially breaking in horses for Tim Forster and later other trainers such as Fred Winter and Michael Dickinson. She also began training point-to-pointers and had over 100 winners in that sphere before taking out the full training licence in 1989, enjoying her first success when The Grey Gunner won a novice chase at Bangor on August 18 that year.
Knight met former champion jump jockey Terry Biddlecombe, one of the idols of her youth, in 1993 and the following year he moved into West Lockinge and the pair now very much operate as a team, training among a menagerie of animals at the converted farm.
The initial Cheltenham Festival success came in 1997 when Karshi, owned by the Cheltenham racecourse chairman and Knight’s brother-in-law Lord Vestey, landed what is now the Ladbrokes World Hurdle (then the Stayers’ Hurdle).
As well as Best Mate’s three Gold Cup triumphs, Knight has enjoyed other successes at The Festival via Edredon Bleu in both the 1998 Grand Annual Chase and 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase and with Lord Noelie in the 2000 Royal & SunAlliance Chase.
Away from the Cheltenham Festival, her biggest wins have included the 2003 Stan James King George VI Chase with Edredon Bleu, who also won Huntingdon’s Peterborough Chase for four consecutive years from 1998 to 2001, took the Grade Two William Hill Haldon Gold Cup Chase at Exeter twice.
Maximize landed the 2001 Feltham Novices’ Chase for the stable, while Best Mate’s other big wins have included the 2000 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, 2000 Independent Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, 2001 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, 2001 Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, 2002 Peterborough Chase, 2002 Stan James King George VI Chase and the 2003 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
BEST MATE (IRE)
10 b g Un Desperado (FR) - Katday (FR) (Miller’s Mate)
Form: 11221/1112/1221/111/211-12 Owner: Jim Lewis
Best Mate is the greatest chaser of recent years and in 2004 became the first horse since the legendary Arkle in the 1960s to win the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup thrice. A training setback meant he missed last season’s Festival showpiece but connections are hopeful that he can reclaim his crown in March, and become the first since the great Golden Miller to land four Gold Cups.
Bred by Jacques Van’t Hart in Ireland, Best Mate was sold as a foal for Ir2,500 guineas at Tattersalls (Ireland) in 1995, passing into the care of Tom Costello, the famed Irish horse dealer from Newmarket-On-Fergus in County Clare, who has sold five totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup winners in addition to Best Mate - Midnight Court, The Thinker, Cool Ground, Imperial Call and Cool Dawn.
Best Mate’s dam Katday, bought from Van’t Hart for Ir5,500gns at Goffs in 1996 by Vincent O’Brien’s son-in-law Philip Myerscough, has proved an outstanding broodmare. She is the dam of the useful Inca Trail, Grade 1 novice hurdle and Grade 2 novice chase winner Cornish Rebel, Inexorable, an Irish point-to-point winner who went on to win two Grade 3 novice hurdles for trainer David Wachman after being bought for 185,000gns at Doncaster in 2002, and Edward O’Grady’s Sidalcea.
Best Mate himself was first seen in a point-to-point at Lismore in February, 1999, when spotted by Henrietta Knight and Terry Biddlecombe but Tom Costello insisted the horse win between the flags - which he duly did at Tuam in Co Clare - before heading to Britain.
His record under Rules is outstanding, having been in the first two on all his 21 starts - coming first 14 times and second half that number. In his first season in Britain, 1999/2000, he landed a bumper at Cheltenham on his initial start, then took a Sandown novices’ hurdle, finished runner-up to Sausalito Bay in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival and won the Grade Two Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. There followed three straight novice chase victories, including the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, before reverting to the smaller obstacles for his final run of the campaign when runner-up to Barton in the Grade One John Smith’s Aintree Hurdle.
The 2001/2002 season began with success in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, followed by second place in Ascot’s First National Gold Cup, when he had to concede at least 20lb to the rest of the field, and he had to again settle for the runner-up spot behind Florida Pearl in the Stan James King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He was then put away until Cheltenham when proving himself one of the most exciting chasers by landing the 2002 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup by a length and three quarters from Commanche Court.
On his first outing the following season, Best Mate beat Douze Douze by eight lengths in the totesport Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon and then landed the Stan James King George VI Chase at Kempton by a length and a half from Marlborough. He gained his second totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup success in March, easily beating Truckers Tavern by 10 lengths.
The 2003/2004 campaign began with a surprise eight-length defeat by Jair Du Cochet in the totesport Peterborough Chase in November, when connections were adamant that conditions were too muddy for their charge. Normal service was quickly resumed when he won his next start, the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown just after Christmas, by nine lengths from Le Coudray. He rounded off the term with a third totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which he was driven out by Jim Culloty to get the better of Sir Rembrandt by half a length.
Best Mate began last season with a short-head defeat of Seebald in the William Hill Chase, a race created specifically for him, at Exeter in November. On his only other start, he was unable to gain a second successive win in the Lexus Chase, this time finding Beef Or Salmon seven lengths too strong. Best Mate was found to be under the weather after that race but was in great form at home as The Festival approached, only for disaster to strike. He broke blood vessels during a crucial piece of work ahead of the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup and his bid for a fourth consecutive victory was thwarted.
Connections are happy with Best Mate’s progress as he prepares for his traditional seasonal bow at Exeter on November 1, before embarking on an attempt to land the Betfair Million. That three-race challenge incorporates the new Betfair Chase at Haydock on November 19 and the Stan James King George VI Chase at Sandown on Boxing Day before culminating at Cheltenham, where Best Mate will bid for his fourth totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Best Mate will have a different jockey after regular rider Jim Culloty retired from race riding in the summer but no final decision has been taken yet.
FREE BET FROM BETFAIR TO BENEFIT BEST MATE CHARITIES
Betfair announces today (Wednesday, October 12, 2005) that it has given Best Mate’s owner, Jim Lewis, a free £5,000 bet at 33/1 about his horse winning the Betfair Million.
Should the triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner succeed in landing the three-race challenge, Betfair will pay Lewis £165,000 which will be shared between the two charities associated with Best Mate, the St Richard’s Hospice (www.strichards.org.uk) and the Gentleman’s Night Out.
Betfair’s gift got the thumbs up from Lewis who said today: “It’s a fantastic gesture to the racing game. Betfair obviously benefits greatly from racing but they also put much back and all credit goes to them. I hope the Betfair Million is a huge success, that every race is a great spectacle and that everybody understands that Betfair has made it possible.”
Lewis thinks his champion can complete the treble, which would activate the £1-million bonus, of the new Betfair Chase at Haydock on November 19, the Stan James King George VI Chase at Sandown on December 26 and the totesport Gold Cup at Cheltenham on March 17.
Horses such as Kicking King and Trabolgan are just two of the potential challengers to Lewis’ champion, but the owner is confident that Best Mate will come out on top
He remarked: “I’m not really worried about anything else. If Best Mate turns up at Haydock in his normal form, then I think the chances of pulling it off are very good indeed. Kicking King is a worthy champion but I think our horse is a better jumper and has a better turn of foot on his day.
“I think the 33-1 is probably a fair price. First of all you’ve got to get them to the races but I wouldn’t give you 33-1 Best Mate for all three, because if he wins the first one and comes home sound, I don’t think there’s a horse about that could beat him.”
Lewis registered Best Mate as a trademark after the third Gold Cup triumph in 2004 with a view to raising funds for charity and revealed: “We’ve raised thousands selling merchandise through our website www.bestmate.info and all the money from that goes direct to the two charities.”
Lewis is patron of the St. Richard’s Hospice in Worcester which is looking to raise £5 million.
“We are building a new 16-bed palliative care hospital and we’ve only got about a quarter of a million to go now. If we win the Betfair Million and land this bet then we could almost say for sure that the hospice would have all the money they wanted.
“The Gentleman’s Night Out has raised in excess of £10 million and that all goes to short-life children. These are kids with terminal illnesses and we send them to Lapland for Christmas and things like that to fulfil their wishes.
“I think it’s fantastic what Betfair are doing and they deserve the credit for this because first of all they are putting money into racing, but it could also have all sorts of benefits for hundreds of people.”
THE BETFAIR MILLION
THE BETFAIR MILLION - a seven-figure bonus offered by the betting exchange to any horse that wins the inaugural Betfair chase at Haydock on November 19, the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup - has really captured the imagination of the National Hunt world.
And, with the likes of Kicking King, Best Mate and any number of pretenders to the chasing crown setting their sights on the million, Betfair co-founder Andrew Black is delighted at the massive interest the bonus has generated.
Black said: “I'm delighted the connections of some of the sport's leading chasers are targeting the Betfair Million. The idea of Best Mate and Kicking King going head to head at Haydock is an exciting prospect. If one or two of the rising stars were to line up also then it would be a spine-tingling early season highlight.
"We answered racing's call for a race like this to be staged and it would be a personal thrill to sign over a million pounds if a horse could achieve the realistic goal of winning the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Gold Cup."
The Betfair Million will be distributed to connections in the following proportions if won - 75 per cent to the owner, 10 per cent to the trainer, 10 per cent to the jockey, and 5 per cent to the stable staff.
Betfair's Sports and Horseracing PR manager Tony Calvin analyses the leading contenders for the most valuable, and winnable, bonus in the history of the sport.
KICKING KING: Announced himself as a potential top-notcher when winning the 2m4f John Durkan Memorial by 11 lengths from Rathgar Beau in December 2004, and is now confirmed as one of the best chasers of recent seasons after victories in the King George, Cheltenham Gold Cup and most recently when sauntering home by 3 lengths in the Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup in April. Doesn't look to have any obvious chinks in his armour apart from the odd fencing error - his last-fence Kempton blunder aside, he is a pretty sound jumper - and one suspects he could hold his own in any company from Champion Chase to Gold Cup distance. Is the favourite to win the Betfair Million, and Haydock report that the ground is likely to be good for the Betfair Chase on November 19, which will be in his favour.
BEST MATE: Hasn't raced since returning with a bug after finishing a 7 length runner-up to Beef Or Salmon in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, a subsequent bloody nose ruling him out of a crack at a fourth consecutive Gold Cup success. It would be churlish to pick holes in the form of his three Cheltenham successes, though many have tried, and he is clearly a highly credible contender for the Betfair Million if back to the brilliant best that saw him emerge as the nation's favourite racehorse. Has never raced at Haydock, but has won at Sandown over hurdles and fences, though interestingly was beaten by a certain Monsignor at the Esher track back in 2000.
TRABOLGAN: Runner-up in the 2003 Cheltenham Festival bumper, and has always been held in the highest regard by the Henderson camp. Confirmed himself as one of the candidates for top chasing honours this season when winning the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Festival and, with only 11 runs under his belt, is entitled to improve a great deal. Has well over a stone to find with the likes of Kicking King though, and disappointed on heavy ground at Haydock in January.
GREY ABBEY: Was the second best staying chaser around last season judged on runaway wins in the Pillar Property Chase and the Betfair Bowl at Aintree, on the latter occasion beating First Gold by 12 lengths. With that in mind, this front-runner is clearly a leading contender for all three races that comprise the Betfair Million.
OLLIE MAGERN: Swept on to the novice chasing scene last autumn when putting up bold front-running and superb fencing performances for one so inexperienced. Runner-up to Celestial Gold in the Hennessy, he then short-headed Trabolgan in the Feltham at Kempton and signed off for the season when a 2 length 2nd to It Takes Time at Lingfield. Outstanding prospect, but would not appreciate soft ground.
IRIS'S GIFT: Beat the mighty Baracouda in the 2004 Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and has begun his climb up the chasing ranks with victories in moderate novice contents at Market Rasen, and at Bangor on Saturday. Clearly has the engine to trouble, and beat the best, but will need to show a greater aptitude and fluency for fencing, but that will surely come with experience. Fascinating prospect.
MOSCOW FLYER: Short-headed by Rathgar Beau in the Kerrygold Champion Chase when last seen on a racecourse, bringing an end to a remarkable run of performances that either saw him win or fail to complete. The champion 2m chaser, his participation in the Betfair Million is highly unlikely - he has never raced beyond 2m4f - but after seeing him beat Le Roi Miguel by 16 lengths in the 2m4f John Smith's Melling Chase at Aintree in April, I'd be inclined to give it a shot were he mine. After all, he has nothing more to prove over the minimum trip.
DOUZE DOUZE: Hasn't enjoyed a happy time of it on his English visits, when he has jumped poorly. But clearly warrants consideration on his French form, though it seems he is ideally suited by less than 3m on heavy ground. Has the Peterborough Chase as his imminent target.
CYRLIGHT: Has shown an impressive level of form for a five-year-old (even allowing for the precocity of French breds) but suffered a rare reverse when second in a 2m6f Grade 2 Autueil hurdle last time. However, that form is put into context when you see that Rule Supreme finished 6 lengths away in third. Was unbeaten in 10 chasing starts before going hurdling on his last four outings and, if deemed experienced enough to take on the big boys - connections were still calling him a "baby" last year - he is clearly one to take note of.
WELL CHIEF: Beat Kicking King by a length in the 2004 Arkle and did not disappoint connections in his second season over fences. Lost nothing in defeat when chasing home Azertyuiop and Moscow Flyer at Newbury and Cheltenham respectively, and signed off for the season when beating the former by 4 lengths at Sandown. Has never raced beyond 2m1f, but some good judges see him as a King George contender.
KINGSCLIFF: Was many people's fancy for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after his strong-finishing second to Kicking King in the King George, only for a lack-lustre gallop in the run-up to the big race to see him withdrawn. Very disappointing when last seen at Punchestown in April, and has run disappointingly at Haydock in the past, but a peak-form Kingscliff would be a live contender for the Betfair Million.
BEEF OR SALMON: Top-class staying chaser at his best, as a November, 2004 defeat of Kicking King and a 7 length defeat of Best Mate in the Lexus amply illustrates. However, seems pretty reliant on soft ground (though he has run some fair races on good). Should be all the better for his spin in the Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh last weekend and the Betfair Chase is now being considered.
ASHLEY BROOK: Stamina is unproven beyond 2m4f but established himself as one of the best novice chasers around last season.May well have won the Arkle but for blundering at the last fence but put the record straight in emphatic style when a superb front running performance saw him take the Grade 1 Novice Chase at Aintree by 16 lengths from War Of Attrition. Connections are apparently seriously considering the Betfair Chase, and a crack at the Million.
KAUTO STAR: Ex-French chaser who had Ruby Walsh purring that he was a "machine" after he beat Foreman by 9 lengths on his British debut over 2m2f at Newbury in December. Was made Arkle favourite after that, only to injure himself at Exeter subsequently (fell, remounted and was only beaten a short-head). Is held in the highest regard by his trainer, who is leaning towards the 2m-route though.
WAR OF ATTRITION: Disappointed at Cheltenham and arguably when a distant second at Aintree too, but the high-class novice hurdler proved he can cut it over fences with a length defeat of Watson Lake in the 2m Grade 1 Swordlestown novice chase at Punchestown in April. Connections reckon the horse will come into his own when sent over a trip. Haydock would be a good place to find out.
TAKE THE STAND: Started off this season a distant 5th of 8 in a Uttoxeter handicap hurdle. Obviously will strip fitter for that initial outing and, judged on his 5 length second to Kicking King in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is worthy of respect in the highest class. His two efforts to date at Haydock have been disappointing though.
PIZARRO: If he could put in an error-free round, then he would probably record a 170-rated effort, instead of those in the low 150s. As it is this eight-year-old, who looked a potential star in his novice chasing days, continues to run adequately in defeat despite making howlers.
OUR VIC: Has failed to complete in his last three starts, though he probably would have won the Bonusprint Gold Cup at Cheltenham off a mark of 149 in December but for falling at the last when in front. Stays well and there is clearly more to come from this seven-year-old, though he is probably a stone off the best.
LORD TRANSCEND: As long ago as 2002 trainer Howard Johnson was calling Lord Transcend "the one" and he signalled that he was a horse to keep on the right side of this season when beating First Gold by 10 lengths in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January. Was getting 17lb from the runner-up there and clearly needs to progress, but as he has only raced nine times in his life I'd say that was a probability rather than a possibility. And everyone loves a front-running grey.
COLONEL FRANK: Finished for the season after falling in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton but had earlier established himself as one of the most improved chasers in training when beating Calling Brave and Lord Sam (themselves both good prospects this term) at Sandown in December. Clearly, a high-class staying prospect.
KING HARALD: Started off last season rated only 110 yet ended the campaign probably posting an effort two and a half stone better than that when beating Lacdoudal by 4 lengths in a 2m5f handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival; stays 3m+ and it will be interesting to see how this seven-year-old cuts it in the top races.
CELESTIAL GOLD: Beat Ollie Magern by 1.5 lengths in the Hennessy and improved again when a close third to Farmer Jack and Strong Flow in the Aon Chase, before running a disappointing 7th in the Gold Cup; already has form that entitles him to respect in the top class races. He has only raced nine times and is entitled to improve.
LORD OF ILLUSION: Recorded one of the better efforts by a staying novice chaser when beating Baron Windrush by 12 lengths over 3m2f at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, after which he was quoted at 6-1 with some bookies for the Royal & SunAlliance. Missed Cheltenham because of a poor gallop, but if starting the season in rude health shouldn't be lightly dismissed.
KEEN LEADER: Loves Haydock and posted his career-best effort when beating Truckers Tavern by 17 lengths in the Tommy Whittle in December 2003. His trainer thought "there still could be a Gold Cup in him" after failing by only 1.25 lengths to give Kelami 24lb at Cheltenham back in March. Soft ground would make him a danger to all.
SIR REMBRANDT: Placed in the last two Gold Cups, which obviously marks him down as a high class chaser, but is increasingly seen as a spring horse. With that in mind, an unlikely Betfair Million winner but soft ground puts him into contention in any company.
HEDGEHUNTER: The Grand National winner is likely to have his campaign targeted towards Aintree once again. But this is a chaser who would only have 10lb or so to find with the likes of Kicking King over 3m, so don't dismiss him lightly if connections are tempted by the Betfair Million.
IRISH HUSSAR: Apparently wants soft ground to show his best but his good ground form isn't bad, and was beaten only 3.25 lengths when giving Kelami 17lb at Cheltenham in March
ROYAL AUCLAIR: Won first time out last season and, a first fence fall aside on his final start at Sandown, was the model of high class staying consistency last year. Third in the Hennessy, fourth in the Gold Cup and runner-up in the Grand National, he is clearly an owner's dream. A million would confirm it in some style.
THE BETFAIR MILLION TREBLE IS ACHIEVABLE
Betfair is offering a £1-million bonus to any horse that can complete the Grade One treble of the new Betfair Chase at Haydock on November 19, the King George VI Chase at Sandown on December 26 and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham on March 17.
Seven horses have completed the King George VI Chase/Cheltenham Gold Cup double to date. The great Cottage Rake was the first horse to achieve the King George/Gold Cup double in the 1948/49 season and Limber Hill mirrored the feat in 1955/56.
Saffron Tartan in 1960/61 and the peerless Arkle, ridden by Pat Taaffe, also completed the famous double in 1965/66.
Desert Orchid made the King George his own with four victories between 1986 and 1990, completing the double in 1988/89. The great grey carried Simon Sherwood to a four-length win over Kildimo at Kempton Park in 1988 and the pair slogged up the Cheltenham hill to hold Yahoo for an emotive triumph the following March.
Best Mate, the Henrietta Knight-trained superstar of recent seasons, narrowly failed in his first attempt at the double when going down by three-quarters of a length to Florida Pearl in the 2001 King George before clinching the Gold Cup that spring.
Best Mate gained sweet compensation with a triumph over Marlborough in the 2002 King George and doubled-up with his second Gold Cup success in 2003 when showing his superiority with a 10-length rout of the opposition.
Best Mate completed his Gold Cup hat-trick in 2004 but connections side-stepped the King George in 2003 and 2004.
His absence last season left the way open for a rising star to take the Kempton Park showpiece as Kicking King dominated his rivals and survived a last fence blunder to take the race under Barry Geraghty.
The Tom Taaffe-trained seven-year-old completed the double in imperious fashion at Cheltenham in March. With Best Mate absent due to a training setback, Kicking King put in an authoritative display as he handed out a five-length beating to Take The Stand.
Best Mate and Kicking King are both intended runners in the inaugural Betfair Chase, raising the thrilling prospect of the young champion and the old master going head-to-head for the £1-million Betfair Million.
Betfair’s current odds about the Betfair Million being won are 1-4 No, 10-3 Yes
RHT WELCOMES THE BETFAIR MILLION
The three courses staging the races in the Betfair Million, Haydock Park, Sandown and Cheltenham, are owned by Racecourse Holdings Trust which is the Jockey Club's racecourse group.
Looking ahead to the Betfair Million and the inaugural running of the North West Masters, Andrew Coppel, chief executive of RHT, said today: “This is a very exciting initiative by Betfair, one that will raise the profile of jump racing generally as well as the specific meetings where the races are being held.
“I am delighted that all three Grade One races in the ‘Million’ will take place on RHT tracks, underlining the group’s commitment to promoting and delivering the highest quality jump racing.
“Furthermore, the concept of the Betfair Million is an outstanding extension of the recommendations put forward by the RHT National Hunt Review in 2004. Our report advocated the creation of incentives for jump racing’s equine stars to run more often and called for a better balanced National Hunt programme, with major events being staged away from the spring festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree.
“The North West Masters absolutely fits these criteria in the shape of a progressive and enterprising initiative by Haydock Park and Aintree. It looks set to establish itself immediately as a key weekend in the jumping calendar.”
The Betfair Chase, Stan James King George VI Chase & totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup are in the British Horseracing Board’s Order of Merit.
Haydock Park www.haydock-park.co.uk
Kirkland Tellwright, Clerk of the Course at Haydock Park, says: “Haydock is a left-handed oval course about 1m 5f round. The ground should be pretty much perfect in mid-November - the norm would be just on the soft side of good. The going for the last 10 runnings of the corresponding fixture has been good or good to soft seven times, with the other three being soft. There will have been very little wear from the two opening days of Haydock’s jumps season, and obviously we will be on fresh ground wherever possible in any case. The fences will, as always, be a good test of any chaser. And, as with any race at Haydock Park, it is not over until they cross the line - so many of our staying chases can change completely on the run-in, with the best part of two furlongs still to go once they have jumped the last.”
For latest ground conditions: http://www.turftrax.co.uk/GoingReports/Haydock/Reports/latest.htm