After suffering last fence heartache in last year’s Betfair Chase, owner Clive Smith is looking forward to seeing his outstanding chaser Kauto Star bid for a third success in this year’s £200,000 Grade One Betfair Chase.
The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old is one of 26 horses entered for the prestigious three-mile chase, highlight of racing on the first day of the Northwest Racing Masters at Haydock Park on Saturday, 21 November.
Kauto Star announced himself as one of the leading staying chasers with a crushing 17-length victory over Beef Or Salmon in the 2006 Betfair Chase before going on to further top-class success in the Tingle Creek Chase, the King George VI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He returned to Haydock Park the following season to register a half-length verdict over Exotic Dancer and followed up with another triumph in the King George VI Chase but unseated Sam Thomas at the final obstacle when mounting his challenge in last year’s race, allowing Snoopy Loopy to get the better of Tamarinbleu in a thrilling finish.
After bouncing back to form with a third success in the King George VI Chase, Kauto Star ensured his place in the history books by becoming the first horse ever to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup, exacting revenge over the previous year’s winner Denman.
Smith commented: “Kauto Star is in very good form at the moment and Paul and myself are very happy with his preparation for the Betfair Chase. We had the option of going for the Down Royal Champion Chase but we believed that returning to Haydock Park was the right thing to do and it was only a question of keeping an eye on the weather and the ground.
“This will be the first time that he will going into the race as a fresh horse. He has run at Aintree and Down Royal the previous two seasons but we wanted to limit him to three appearances this year. He will start off in the Betfair Chase and then hopefully go back to Kempton and Cheltenham – although we have to get through each race at a time.
“I’m not worried about returning to Haydock Park after last year. He has won the race twice before and it was just a series of events that didn’t work out last season – it’s possible that his run at Down Royal may have taken the edge off him. I think that he is going to be all right this year and I am very happy with him.
“He’s nine now and has had a few races but he is a remarkable horse. People have always talked about French horses starting too young and therefore their careers end earlier than other horses but Kauto Star seems in great shape. He just seems to want to go on and he is certainly still thoroughly enjoying himself.”
A strong hand from the Ditcheat stable of the champion trainer is further enhanced by Denman, Grade Three scorer Nozic and last year’s Grade One RSA Chase sixth What A Friend, who is part-owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Nicholls may also be represented by My Will, who was fifth behind Kauto Star and Denman in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup before going on to end his campaign with a fine third behind the Venetia Williams-trained Mon Mome in the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree.
Apart from Tamarinbleu, David Pipe could also rely on 2008 Grade One Ryanair Chase winner Our Vic and Madison Du Berlais, who got the better of the Charlie Mann-trained Air Force One in last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup before going on to Grade Two victories at Kempton and the totesport Bowl at Aintree.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has entered Imperial Commander, successful in last season’s Ryanair Chase, and recent recruit Roll Along, sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup for former handler Carl Llewellyn, while Nicky Henderson and the Queen may be represented by Barbers Shop, who easily scored in a Listed chase at Sandown before coming sixth behind Kauto Star at Cheltenham.
Monet’s Garden rolled back the years with a vintage display of jumping for trainer Nicky Richards in the Grade Two totetentofollow Old Roan Chase at Aintree last month and the 11-year-old chaser may re-oppose the second from that race, the Howard Johnson-trained Tidal Bay.
A strong potential Irish challenge includes the Jim Dreaper-trained Notre Pere, who stormed to victory on his only previous start in the UK in the Grade Three Welsh National. The eight-year-old soft-ground specialist triumphed in the Grade One Punchestown Gold Cup in April, beating Schindlers Hunt, from the stable of Dessie Hughes, by 13 lengths.
Other notable entries include 2006 Welsh National hero Halcon Genelardais, from the yard of Alan King, the Tom George-trained Nacarat, successful in the Grade Three Racing Post Chase at Kempton in February and Albertas Run, victorious in the 2008 Grade One RSA Chase at Cheltenham for trainer Jonjo O’Neill.
Betfair’s Head Of Media, Tony Calvin, commented: “We are thrilled with the entries and the fact that 14 of the 26 are rated 160 or more by Timeform is a very impressive statistic. All the best staying chasers, with the exception of Voy Por Ustedes, have been given an entry and let’s hope that many stand their ground.
“Kauto Star, who looks a probable starter once again, already has a hat-trick of King George wins under his belt, and this season could well see him repeat the feat in the other two Grade One staying chases in this country. He has already won two Betfair Chases and two Gold Cups, and to add to those successes would be an astonishing achievement.”
A superb seven-race card on the first day of the Northwest Racing Masters also includes the £100,000 Listed Timeform Betfair Racing Club “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle and the £50,000 Tune Into Timeform Radio Hurdle.
The second day of the Northwest Racing Masters at Aintree on Sunday, 22 November, features two excellent contests over the world-famous Grand National course among six races, the £100,000 totesport.com Becher Chase and the £70,000 totesuper7 Grand Sefton Chase.