Rain arrives on cue to boost Conti's hopes for Haydock
Atrocious weather in the Haydock area this week will be welcomed by few apart from Paul Nicholls, who feels it will help the cause of Silviniaco Conti as his ongoing rivalry with Cue Card stretches into another Betfair Chase.
With 40mm of rain forecast by Saturday, clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright said: "I'm sure it will be on, but it will be heavy."
Silviniaco Conti picked up this race in 2012 and had the edge over Cue Card 12 months ago, as well as in the last two King Georges.
His only blip at Haydock was when Cue Card dominated in 2013 and Colin Tizzard's star looked a refreshed character in winning last month's Charlie Hall at Wetherby, having had an operation to free a trapped oesophagus.
"I wouldn't want to be taking Cue Card on on good ground," said Nicholls yesterday. "He's got a whole heap of speed, whereas ours is an out-and-out stayer. Cue Card could keep improving, but the ground's probably in our favour."
Just seven horses are in the running for a £1m bonus for the 'Chase Triple Crown', given to a winner of the Betfair, King George and Gold Cup. They include Menorah and Dynaste. Silviniaco Conti is the 11/10 Betfair market leader.
He has six Grade One races in the bag but has failed in the last three Gold Cups. Victory at the weekend would intensify the lure of trying once more at Cheltenham.
"This year's King George could be one of the toughest for a long time," said Nicholls.
"If all the Irish horses turn up, he would do well to win three. If he did win the King George - it's a big if - you'd have to consider the bonus as it doesn't come round often. He just lacks a bit of pace around Cheltenham."
Haydock's valuable new hurdle is a possible for Nicholls's Irving. The following week's Fighting Fifth at Newcastle is another option.
Meanwhile, multiple Group One winner Gordon Lord Byron heads a quality line-up of 10 horses for the Hyde Stakes at Kempton tomorrow.
The Tom Hogan-trained seven-year-old is a three-times winner at the highest level and was last successful in a Listed race at the Curragh in June.
He has posted some solid efforts in defeat during a busy campaign this year, notably when third to Muhaarar in the Group One Prix Maurice de Gheest over an extended six furlongs at Deauville in August.
He was fourth behind Take Cover over an inadequate five furlongs at Dundalk on his latest start.
The £40,000 mile contest is a fast-track qualifier for the Ladbrokes Mile at Lingfield on All-Weather Championships Finals Day on Good Friday.
Hogan said: "Gordon Lord Byron seems well. He had his ups and downs mid-season but he seems in pretty good nick at the moment.
"The five furlongs at Dundalk was too sharp for him. He needs slower ground to perform over five but it was a decent run.
"He has good form over a mile in Hong Kong and the configuration of Sha Tin is almost identical to Kempton, so he should act well on the track.
"He will hopefully be off to Hong Kong again for the international meeting in December.
Tomorrow's opposition include Dandy Nicholls' Sovereign Debt, which was an unlucky second in this year's Ladbrokes Mile.
The six-year-old has enjoyed an excellent campaign since, landing two Listed prizes and a Group Three, all in Ireland.
John Gosden's lightly-raced three-year-old Richard Pankhurst makes his all-weather debut after defying a 439-day absence in a seven-furlong conditions race at Haydock in September.
Other runners include Sir Mark Prescott's 2,000 Guineas fifth Celestial Path, William Muir's Big Baz and Godolphin's Very Special, trained by Saeed bin Suroor.