Sunday 22 April 2018

Cue Card can spoil Coneygree's return

Benefit of Wetherby run will stand to popular chaser

Thomas Campbell (right), with Barry Geraghty up, clears the last on the way to winning The Olympus Inroductory Hurdle Race at Ascot. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Thomas Campbell (right), with Barry Geraghty up, clears the last on the way to winning The Olympus Inroductory Hurdle Race at Ascot. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Johnny Ward

It has been a long wait for fans of Coneygree and his return in the Betfair Chase at Haydock this afternoon is the highlight of an excellent day's jumps combat across the Irish Sea.

Aidan Coleman was successful in the main event last Saturday aboard Taquin De Seuil, which was the headline tip in this paper. He is booked to ride the Mark Bradstock-trained chaser but Richard Johnson is expected to switch as Menorah will be declared a non-runner.

Accounts suggest that the horse, which memorably won the Gold Cup as a novice two seasons ago, has been working nicely ahead of his first performance in 377 days. However, the bookmakers marginally prefer Cue Card as the most probable victor and that is probably accurate.

Cue Card was not at his best on his reappearance at Wetherby. He did not have an easy time of it up front and gave the impression that he basically blew up when push came to shove. There are no apparent excuses today.

One cannot forget how good a horse Cue Card is. Don Poli looked at his best at Aintree last season, yet Cue Card trounced him by nine lengths. Moreover, he won this race in two of the last three seasons.

On form, Silviniaco Conti is the one who may exploit any kinks in the main pair. However, he was fairly left for dead by Valseur Lido at Down Royal. He likes to race handily, as does the excellent jumper Coneygree, and it will likely be a spectacle to savour.

Coneygree is a best-priced 10/1 for the Gold Cup in March. This run will give some indication as to how accurate that price is and it seems an open staying chase division this term.

If the heart races with thoughts of Coneygree, the return of Yanworth at Ascot is no less noteworthy. JP McManus' sophomore hurdler should take the beating in the Coral Hurdle, though a muddling gallop would be a concern, given the exuberant nature of how he races.

Zarkandar could be a danger, considering he looked to have every chance when coming down at the last at Aintree.

Haydock's Betfair Prince Rush Hurdle is surprisingly poorly supported; perhaps My Tent Or Yours scared off some of his potential foes. Despite not running in the guts of two years, he was not far off his best last term, especially when an honourable second to Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle.

The concern now is the small field, as he tends to race freely, and he may not get away with that against Old Guard, which does not have much to find on ratings.

Dodging Bullets, which was deeply disappointing on his first run last season, appeals as the lay of the day in Ascot's Stella Artois 1965 Chase.

The trip seems likely to stretch him and Kylemore Lough may be the value at around 7/1. This horse could have run in the Clonmel Oil Chase on Thursday but stayed at home and may extend a superb winning sequence. God's Own, which ran close to a peak career performance at Aintree on his reappearance, has to be feared.

What of the winning run of Unowhatimeanharry? Appropriately trained by Harry Fry, JP McManus' eight-year-old has won five races on the bounce, having been just one from 13 in his career previously. He was not especially fancied in the Albert Bartlett but defied that with a really game success under Noel Fehily.

Whether he can make it six on the bounce in the Betfair Exchange "Fixed Brush" Handicap Hurdle remains to be seen, considering he shoulders top weight and has not had an outing yet this term.

Western Warrior is put forward at around 10/1. The seven-year-old, which has the assistance of the excellent Brian Hughes, made a nice return to the fray when a staying-on sixth at Cheltenham.

The Shawbrook Handicap Chase at Ascot is a cracker. Paul Moloney has a rare ride here for Nicky Henderson aboard Vaniteux, which looks a worthy favourite at this stage.

Though he unseated Nico de Boinville in the Arkle last year, he was in the process of running a fine race, and the distance likely stretched him when he was third to Ptit Zig at Sandown.

Sire De Grugy, which won the Champion Chase in 2014, has it all to prove now off top weight. He was pretty comprehensively hammered on his last three starts, notably a 20/1 chance in a Grade Two on latest.

It will be intriguing to see how Quite By Chance gets on at this level, having looked an improved beast when scoring readily at Aintree.

The final televised heat is the Better Value With Betfair Handicap Chase at Haydock. An even-money favourite on his initial run back at Carlisle, Three Faces West ran a lifeless race, very much unlike the reliable profile he had established last term.

Cheekpieces are applied, he is a much bigger price now and is taken to prove that run all wrong under Richard Johnson.

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