Bolster the bank balance
Simon Holt previews Saturday's Betfair Chase and fancies The Giant Bolster to make a winning return to action.
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Long Run's return to action in Saturday's Betfair Chase is bound to have many punters in a quandary: on his Gold Cup-winning form two seasons ago, the horse looks good value at odds against to win this race but, of course, last season's efforts - including when beaten by a gloriously revitalised Kauto Star in this race - were far less convincing.
It is said that Long Run has grown a bit since last term and it could have been the case that two scraps with Kauto Star (here and at Kempton in the King George) during the winter took the edge off him resulting in a below-par performance when only third behind the ill-fated Synchronised and surprise-package The Giant Bolster back at Cheltenham in the spring.
However, concerns still surround his jumping from time to time while regular rider Sam Waley Cohen has ridden in only four races so far this season.
So it's hard to say which Long Run is going to turn up at Haydock and, given that doubt, I will take The Giant Bolster to confirm the Gold Cup placings and prove his effort that day was no fluke.
Overall, David Bridgwater's chaser had an inconsistent campaign in 2011/12 getting rid of Tom Scudamore at the first fence in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, looking reluctant to line up before the Hennessy but then going on to win at Cheltenham before his must improved effort behind Synchronised.
What's interesting - but maybe not surprising - about this horse is that he seems to be improving as his trainer gets better at training!
By his own admission, Bridgwater is pushing his horses harder at home than he used to and, consequently, he has been sending out winners on a far more regular basis; this season he is operating at one winner for every four runners.
So there is every chance that The Giant Bolster will never have been better prepared than he is now.
According to the market, second favourite Silviniaco Conti is regarded as the horse most likely to topple Long Run but I am not so sure.
While clearly smart, Paul Nicholls' charge had little to beat in the Charlie Hall Chase on his reappearance and this strikes me as by far his toughest task to date. We will know more about him after this race.
On the best of his form, Weird Al would also have chances. But, after a good third behind Kauto Star and Long Run in this race last year, he then became disappointing and broke a blood vessel in the Gold Cup, and was then well beaten when coming to grief in the Grand National.
While reported in good shape, Weird Al has something to prove on this occasion.
At Ascot, Oscar Whisky looks sure to take plenty of beating in the Coral Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson's gelding crashed to the ground at the final flight when trying to concede weight to the mighty Overturn in this race 12 months ago and then went onto give 8lb and a beating to Get Me Out Of Here in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The latter now renews rivalry at level weights so Oscar Whisky, who is probably best at distances short of three miles having looked a non-stayer behind Big Buck's in the World Hurdle in March, has a clear chance of confirming the form and will, justifiably, start a short-priced favourite.