Conti looks major threat
The Betfair Chase was not around during my riding days, but it's now established as a great addition to the early season program and has been well supported by some leading names yards since it was first run back in 2005.
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Kauto Star had this as a firm target during his career, winning it four times, including last year, while with the likes of Imperial Commander, who won the race in 2010 and last year's runner-up Long Run, then it's become an excellent Cheltenham Gold Cup guide.
In fact, it's the last named horse - Long Run - that this year's race revolves around as this former Gold Cup winner is set to make his seasonal reappearances.
This really is a big season for Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old as he looks to get back on track to showing the potential that he promised a few seasons ago. He could not live with an aging Kauto Star in this race 12 months ago, while the same applied in the King George the following month, and although he just got home in the Denman Chase at Newbury after he could then only manage third in the Gold Cup last March.
With all that in mind there's no denying he's still very much a force to be reckoned and with Henderson reporting him a lot more forward than most years then he's certainly the one to beat here. However, with the likes of Flemenstar, Sir Des Champs, Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti coming up through the ranks - then things aren't going to get any easier for Long Run as the season progresses.
For me though, he's also bit too short in the betting here, while although his connections are giving out good vibes let's not forget he's not won first time out now for the past two seasons, after only managing third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup the campaign before last - but that's not to say he can't go well in the Gold Cup later in the season. A win here (depending on the style of victory) will probably see his Cheltenham odds cut from the current 8/1, and considering he's yet to finish out of the money from three runs at Prestbury Park then even at that price he will attract a lot of each-way players.
Those backing him here will say there is nothing in the same calibre as Kauto Star in the race, and being only 7 years-old then there should be more still to come, while those willing to take him on will harp on about his recent record when fresh, the fact the Giant Bolster beat him by 2 lengths in the Gold Cup, but is 4 times the price, and, finally, that 5 of the last 7 winners of this race came here after a recent run.
Tidal Bay has had a new lease of life since joining the Paul Nicholls yard and was a decent winner of the John Smith's Hurdle at Wetherby last month - a win that followed up a victory in the Bet365 Gold Cup last season - he is, however, still rated 12lbs inferior to Long Run and at 11 he's another that's not getting any younger.
Weird Al, who was forced to miss the Charlie Hall Chase last month, might attract a few wagers if he makes the final line-up. He's won first time out for the past 4 seasons and was a fair third in this race in 2010, but is another that based on the ratings has 14lbs to find with Long Run.
I've mentioned The Giant Bolster and being that he's only seven-years-old too then he could be in for a big season, while I'm sure if he was housed at one of the more fashionable yards then he would probably be 2-3 points shorter.
That leaves us with Silviniaco Conti, who will be hoping to continue the excellent record Paul Nicholls has in this race. We last saw him winning the Charlie Hall at Wetherby in eye-catching fashion and unlike some of the older horses here he's still on the upgrade, and of those rated below Long Run he's certainly one that can improve again and bridge that ratings gap.
With 10lbs to find then many will feel that he's still got a year or two to go, but if Long Run runs a few pounds below his mark and Conti does come on again, especially with a potential fitness edge too, then there might not be too much between them on this occasion and with Ruby an added bonus in the saddle then that will be a further positive as Nicholls looks to win his fifth Betfair Chase.
Betfair Chase Trends:
7/7 - Irish (3) or French (4) bred horses
6/7 - Had won over at least 3m (fences) previously
5/7 - Placed in the top three in their last race
5/7 - Raced within the last month
5/7 - Had won a Grade One chase previously
5/7 - Winning distance - 2 lengths or less
5/7 - Officially rated 170 or higher
5/7 - Favourites placed
5/7 - Raced at Haydock previously
3/7 - Raced at Aintree last time out
2/7 - Raced in the Charlie Hall (Wetherby) last time out
2/7 - Won their last race
The average winning SP in the last 7 runnings is 9/1
Trainer Paul Nicholls and Kauto Star won the prize in 2006, 2007, 2009 & 2011
Ruby Walsh rode the winner in 2006, 2009 & 2011
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