Impressive Conti to land Betfair glory for Fehily
IT'S hard to recall a reigning Gold Cup winner ever having faced a more formidable assignment on its first start back than Bobs Worth does at Haydock today.
Christmas Day is usually behind us when the gloves come off en masse, but Nicky Henderson's brave eight-year-old tackles a Betfair Chase that could conceivably be won by any of the eight runners.
The two least likely to emerge on top in the three-mile Grade One are probably Gordon Elliott's Roi Du Mee and David Bridgewater's The Giant Bolster.
Yet, Roi Du Mee toppled Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant at Down Royal last time, and The Giant Bolster is never far away in these marquee chases, for all that he doesn't win often.
Unusually, Bobs Worth was seen only twice in public last term, but he couldn't have done any more to enhance his reputation.
He saw off Tidal Bay and First Lieutenant to record an impressive Hennessy Gold Cup victory and then knuckled down to draw seven lengths clear of Sir Des Champs to plunder his third and most famous Cheltenham Festival triumph.
With just six runs over fences and 12 in all, he remains sparingly raced.
Still, notwithstanding his unexposed profile, history tells us that winning a Gold Cup comes at a cost, so it is worth looking elsewhere for a bit of value, given that the sharp Liverpool venue might not suit.
Off 6lb better terms than when second in the Hennessy, Paul Nicholls' evergreen Tidal Bay couldn't be written off.
The 12-year-old went on to chin First Lieutenant and Sir Des Champs in a thrilling Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, so his form is as solid as anything else's.
Tidal Bay will love the forecast slow ground, and a reappearance that saw him slam horses half his age for a Grade Two hurdle win at Wetherby confirmed that there is life in his legs yet. You'd certainly get far worse 9/1 each-way options in an eight-runner race.
With Long Run and Cue Card both hard to predict, the two that appeal most are Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste. David Pipe made a bold call to skip the Paddy Power Gold Cup last week with Dynaste off a very competitive mark, and three miles with a cut in the ground is ideal for the grey.
A progressive sort, Dynaste is a solid place option at up to 7/1. However, at odds of 5/2, last year's commanding winner Silviniaco Conti is advised for the win under Noel Fehily.
At Newbury in February, Nicholls' seven-year-old was again flawless in his Gold Cup prep. Come Cheltenham, there were concerns as to how he would handle Prestbury Park's undulations, but nothing – including Bobs Worth – travelled better when he crashed three-out.
While it's impossible to say how things might have panned out had he stood up, he would have gone close, and it's hard to imagine any of his other rivals here would have been so well placed.
Silviniaco Conti subsequently proved unsuited by the ferocity of Aintree on good ground when third to First Lieutenant in the Bowl. This afternoon, though, things will be far more to his liking, so he and the exquisite Fehily are trusted to lay down an early marker now.
Fehily, second only to AP McCoy in the jockeys' table with 71 winners, could initiate a big-race double aboard Emma Lavelle's Gullinbursti in the three-mile Fixed Brush Hurdle.
This is competitive, but Gullinbursti reverts to hurdles off a 9lb higher mark than when he destroyed a decent field of chasers at Market Rasen on his reappearance two weeks ago.
He would have won with 20lbs more that day and Lavelle's horses were out of sorts when he earned his hurdle figure of 143 last term, so he has the scope to outrun it now at odds of 7/1.
Earlier, Zuider Zee and Denis O'Regan are fancied to topple McCoy and More Of That.
Third to My Tent Or Yours and Forgotten Voice at Aintree in April, John Ferguson's charge ran well to be second to the in-form and race-fit Hidden Identity on its return at Huntingdon. He is 7lb higher now, but that merely reflects the rate at which he is progressing.
The Coral Ascot Hurdle has been given real dusting of star quality with the presence of exciting Irish mare Annie Power.
Willie Mullins is not a man to get carried away, but even the master trainer found it hard to conceal his enthusiasm for the five-year-old after she took her unbeaten record to seven in a Grade One event at Fairyhouse in April.
With the reliable yardstick Zarkandar in opposition, this will tell connections whether they have a genuine Champion Hurdle prospect or a horse for the big mares' races as she is well treated by the race conditions.
Best Bet: Silviniaco Conti