A total of 11 horses have been entered for the inaugural £150,000 Grade One Betfair Chase, the highlight of the first day of the North West Masters at Haydock Park on Saturday, November 19 and the first leg of the Betfair Million.
As expected, the entries are headed by Kicking King, trained in Ireland by Tom Taaffe and successful last season in both the Stan James King George VI Chase and the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Kicking King is likely to be joined on Saturday by Kingscliff, runner-up in last season's Stan James King George VI Chase as well as recent Charlie Hall Chase victor Ollie Magern.
In addition to Kicking King, the Irish have another strong challenger in the form of Beef Or Salmon, successful in the Grade One Lexus Chase last season.
Peter Bowen has entered last's season's totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Take The Stand while other strong contenders include Martin Pipe's Celestial Gold, Lord Transcend from the Howard Johnson stable and Jonjo O'Neill's's dual Haydock Park winner Keen Leader.
The three remaining entries are last year's John Smith's Grand National second Royal Auclair, Hand Inn Hand and Happy Hussar.
HAYDOCK GROUND IMPROVING
Clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright expressed satisfaction with the current state of the ground at Haydock Park: "The going is currently soft, good to soft in places.
"The forecast is dry for the rest of the week and quite cold, and it looks like being good to soft for Saturday. The daytime temperatures at present mean that any early morning frost should not cause any problems".
FAASEL TO MAKES SEASONAL REAPPEARANCE AT HAYDOCK PARK
Nicky Richards has his team in good order at present and probable runners at Haydock Park on Saturday from the Cumbria handler are headed by Faasel, winner of the Grade One John Smith's Anniversary Four-Year-Old Novices' Hurdle at last year's John Smith's Grand National Meeting, who looks set to contest the £25,000 Casino 36 Classic Nerak Hurdle over two miles. In that contest he could well be taken on by Penzance, who defeated him by a head in last season's Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Richards reported today: "Faasel is an impressive looking animal. Physically, he's improved over the summer and he looks grand. He won't mind what the ground conditions are like."
Jazz d'Estruval, one of the most exciting novice chasers of last season, who scored at the course in January when defeating subsequent Royal & SunAlliance Chase winner Trabolgan in the Northwest Racing Club Novices' Chase, is entered in the £70,000 betfairpoker.com Handicap Hurdle, the most valuable three-mile handicap hurdle ever staged in Britain.
The Greystoke handler continued: "Jazz d'Estruval is an intended runner if the ground is alright. He's better on a soft surface and we'll go chasing after this. He's in good nick and ready to run and we're looking forward to him this year."
Another very promising sort is Echo Point, a bumper winner on his sole start in Ireland, who made a successful jumps debut for the yard when barely coming out of second gear to land a novice hurdle at Sedgefield in October by 24 lengths. He is entered in the £25,000 Gordon Plant Memorial Newton Novices' Hurdle, a Listed contest over two miles.
Richards said: "He's also in at Kelso on Friday so I'll have a look at the entries and weigh the options up. The horse is in great form however and he's come on since his last run."
Richards also reported that Rising Generation could turn out in the opening £20,000 Drink J.W. Lees Bitter Jump v Flat Jockeys Handicap Hurdle over two miles, whilst Bedlam Boy will make his racecourse debut in the Bert Stafford Memorial Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
BUMPER ENTRIES CHASE RECORD PRIZE-MONEY AT AINTREE
Aintree's six-race North West Masters card on Sunday, November 20, has attracted a strong entry at the five-day stage, with 35 possibles for the feature event, the totesport Becher Chase, run over three miles and three furlongs of the Grand National course and worth a record £100,000 this year.
In all, 128 horses have been declared for the six races, with 30 possible runners for the totepool Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, which also offers record prize-money this term of £60,000.
The prestigious totesport Becher Chase has attracted two previous winners of the John Smith's Grand National in the shapes of 2002 victor Bindaree and 2004 hero Amberleigh House, also a winner of this contest in 2001 and runner-up in both 2002 and 2003.
Last season's John Smith's Grand National runner-up Royal Auclair and fourth-placed It Takes Time are possible starters along with other usual suspects such as Le Coudray, First Gold, Forest Gunner, Strong Resolve and Iris Bleu.
Nil Desperandum, one of 10 Irish entries, is bidding to enhance his reputation around the big fences ahead of a second attempt at the John Smith's Grand National next spring.
The eight-year-old was a high-class novice, winning the Grade One Drinmore Novices' Chase at Fairyhouse in November 2003 before slightly losing his way.
Trainer Frances Crowley, who gave her charge a spin on the flat and over hurdles last month reported: "The plan is to run. He has had two runs this year and that should leave him right.
"I hope those runs have freshened him up. He's very well in himself and he's in great form."
The gelding put up a fine debut effort over the big fences when sixth to Hedgehunter in last season's John Smith's Grand National.
The Curragh handler commented: "I was delighted with his run in the National. He made one small mistake at Becher's Brook second time but other than that he was pretty good.
"We'll see how he gets on this Sunday but the plan would be to go for the Grand National again."
The £60,000 totepool Grand Sefton Handicap Chase is part of a strong supporting card and the two mile, five and a half furlong contest has 30 entires at the five day stage.
Cassia Heights, winner of the John Smith's Topham Trophy over the course and distance in 2004 heads into the race in good heart, with trainer Steve Brookshaw hopeful of a bold show.
Brookshaw revealed: "We tried to run him at Aintree last spring but couldn't get in the handicap so it has been the plan all season to go for this race."
The 10-year-old ran seventh to the re-opposing Il'Athou at Haydock earlier this month and the Shropshire handler believes that the gelding will have come on for that outing.
He said: "He had a nice run out at Haydock a few weeks ago so hopefully that will put him right for Sunday.
"The drier the better for us. Good to soft will be fine but if it stays dry all week it could even get better.
"He should have a fairly light weight, which will help him, and, touch wood, he jumps well enough round there so I'm as confident as I can be."
Simon Sherwood, trainer of Il'Athou, conqueror of Cassia Heights at Haydock, would prefer soft ground for his charge.
The nine-year-old relished the soft going when running out a half-length winner of that two and a half mile contest on November 3.
Sherwood said: "He's very well and it's certainly a possibility that he'll go but we haven't made a firm decision yet. It really depends on the ground because he needs it as wet as possible, and obviously we'll have to take a look at the opposition.
"He did really well last time. He's a horse that is always best when fresh. He likes big fences and being able to get his own way, so I'll need to do some homework to see if he's likely to be taken on or not."
Il'Athou finished 14th behind Cassia Heights in the 2004 Topham Trophy on his only previous attempt at the Grand National course but the quick ground that day counted against him.
The Herefordshire trainer commented: "He wants it no faster than soft. He'd have to have genuine soft in the ground. Soft or heavy would be perfect.
"He'll go there or to Newbury but Joe Tizzard is quite keen that he should run at Aintree."
Nicky Richards is happy with his exciting novice chaser Monet's Garden who is among 17 entires for the £15,000 Intersky Novices' Chase over two miles.
The seven-year-old, a classy winner of the Grade Two John Smith's and Batleys Liverpool Hurdle at the Aintree Festival last term, won on his chasing debut at Ayr last month.
The Greystoke trainer said: "We'll look at the opposition and the ground before making a decision.
"Fitness-wise, he has come on for his last run and he is in grand fettle."
Monet's Garden could face any one of the Howard Johnson trio of Kasthari, Bewley's Berry and Astronomic, while Paul Nicholls' Cerium could also line up.
Aintree Clerk of the Course Andrew Tulloch anticipates an exciting weekend of racing and is hopeful that the going on both the Mildmay and Grand National courses will be ideal.
He reported: "We're very happy at the moment. It depends what this week brings but I think that we'll have perfect jumping ground on Sunday.
"We've had a fairly dry weekend with only about two or three millimetres of rain. It's currently good to soft, soft in places.
"The forecast is for possible rain tonight and if that happens then it will go back to being just on the easy side. After that we're hopefully looking at a predominantly dry week but once temperatures start dropping it won't dry a lot.
"We should be looking at good to soft, soft in places on the day, depending on what happens this week."
The North West Masters is an innovative new two-day festival of racing staged at Haydock Park and Aintree on Saturday and Sunday, November 19 and 20 and promises to provide a feast of high-quality action with 14 races worth a combined total of over £500,000 spread throughout the weekend.
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 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.
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. Thanks to the 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 extended two mile, five furlong totepool Grand Sefton Chase getting a £10,000 boost.
THE NORTH WEST MASTERS PROGRAMME
Haydock, Saturday, November 19, 2005
12.45pm £20,000 Drink J. W. Lees Bitter Jump v Flat Jockeys Handicap Hurdle 2m
1.20pm £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
EXCITEMENT BUILDS FOR ROYAL WINDSOR JUMP MEETINGS THIS WEEKEND AND IN DECEMBER
Top-class National Hunt racing returns to Royal Windsor on Friday and Saturday (November 18 & 19) for the second successive year, as the course holds the first of two jumping meetings transferred from Ascot which is undergoing a multi-million pound redevelopment.
Friday's highlight is the £40,000 Blue Square Speed Dial 64555 Hurdle, a Grade Two contest over two and a half miles for four-year-olds and upwards, captured last year in decisive fashion by the Nicky Richards-trained Monet's Garden, who defeated the versatile Monkerhostin by four lengths.
The race has attracted 17 quality entries at the five-day stage, including the French-trained pair of Baracouda and Blue Canyon, the very smart recent Wincanton winner Royal Shakespeare who is an intended runner, the Howard Johnson-trained No Refuge who was a top novice last season and the Nicky Henderson-trained Dancing Bay, plus Monkerhostin and Redemption who came second and fell when going well respectively in Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
The feature race on Saturday is the £50,000 Grade Two Blue Square Chase, over two and a half miles for five year olds and upwards, which was won in 2004 by the Alan King-trained Massac, who got the better of nine rivals to secure a half-length success over Mondial Jack in a thrilling finish.
A quality supporting card includes the £15,000 Blue Square Introductory Novices' Hurdle, run over two miles. Last year this race saw the introduction of smart flat recruit Reveillez, trained by James Fanshawe, who posted a seven-length victory and went on to run well in defeat behind No Refuge in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The five-day entries for Saturday will be available early this afternoon. The current going at Windsor is good to soft and the forecast is for a largely dry week.
Meanwhile, Royal Windsor will host the prestigious Christmas Festival on Friday and Saturday, December 16 and 17, also transferred from Ascot. The £75,000 totesport Long Walk Hurdle, a Grade One race over an extended three miles and a furlong, is the highlight on Saturday, December 17.
Last year the Francois Doumen-trained Baracouda held off the persistent challenge of Crystal D'Ainay and the fast-finishing Rule Supreme to record a three quarters of a length success, his fourth totesport Long Walk Hurdle victory.
In addition to the racing then, there is Santa in his grotto with presents for children, real life reindeers, festive entertainment and a shopping village on the Paddock lawn providing lots of last-minute Christmas present ideas.
The Blue Square Speed Dial 64555 Hurdle, Blue Square Chase and totesport Long Walk Hurdle form part of the British Horseracing Board's Order of Merit championship.
Kate Hills, Head of Public Relations at Arena Leisure's Racecourse Division, said today: "We saw some of the sport's biggest names in action as jump racing returned to Royal Windsor last season and we look forward to welcoming many of the top performers on Friday and Saturday as well as at our Christmas Festival next month."