Conti and Card clash again at Haydock
Previous Betfair Chase winners Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card will clash once again in the latest version of the Haydock showpiece tomorrow.
The three-mile Grade One has never been won by an Irish-trained horse, a fact that wasn't going to change this year once none were left in at the five-day stage on Tuesday.
Not even the prospect of a stab at the renewed £1m (€1.43m) Triple Crown bonus could tempt the connections of any of the considerable legion of Irish staying chasers. Don Cossack and Road To Riches have displayed their well-being in resounding fashion in recent weeks, and yesterday at Thurles Sir Des Champs became the third Gigginstown Stud-owned Gold Cup candidate to dazzle on his welcome return.
Sir Des Champs' trainer, Willie Mullins, will unleash the Gold Cup favourite Vautour under Ruby Walsh at Ascot tomorrow. Less than an hour later, old foes Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card will do battle at Haydock.
They will be joined by David Pipe's Dynaste and Ballynagour and Jonjo O'Neill's Holywell, and, while this game's capacity to surprise never fails to surprise, the prospect of anything claiming the £1m prize seems remote. The odds on such an eventuality reflect as much, drifting from as low as 5/1 in October to as big as 33/1 now.
Indeed, you can have 100/1 about Silviniaco Conti or Cue Card winning tomorrow before following up in the King George VI Chase at Christmas en route to Gold Cup glory.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti, which won this in 2012, finished third to Cue Card a year later before prevailing again in 2014, is odds-on to win the £200,000 event for a third time under Noel Fehily.
Coneygree, also deeply impressive on his Sandown comeback, could yet contest the Hennessy Gold Cup tomorrow week. The brilliant reigning Gold Cup victor's participation has been in some doubt since he pulled a shoe on Monday, but his trainer, Mark Bradstock's wife Sara has issued an upbeat bulletin on his progress.
"We've got the shoe on and things are looking a lot rosier," she said yesterday, before adding of his running at Newbury. "I'm not promising anything, but it is a live possibility. The bruise has gone, but there's still a chance some pus could come out of the foot. There is also a chance the bruise could come back. He'll gallop on Sunday and we'll see how he is after that. We're not out of the woods yet, but we've made a step in the right direction."
At Market Rasen yesterday, shrewd Co Clare-based handler Ronnie O'Leary collected with his second well-backed British bumper debutant in as many weeks when Keeper Hill (5/4 fav) ran out a ready six-length winner under Andrew Tinkler.
O'Leary executed a similar feat with Three Ways at Carlisle 11 days ago. Four days later, the son of Flemensfirth changed hands for £190,000 at Cheltenham, and O'Leary will doubtless have little trouble finding suitors for the impressive Keeper Hill as well.