HEAVY Haydock ground predictably played to the strengths of Bristol De Mai who justified favouritism to turn the Betfair Chase – jump racing’s first Grade One contest of the season – into a one-horse contest.
Yet it was the margin of the six-year-old’s victory that was so breathtaking – Daryl Jacob’s mount had 57 lengths in hand over the gallant Cue Card who was seeking an record-equalling fourth win in the race and it is years since a race at the highest level was won so emphatically.
As Bristol De Mai was being eased down, the Harry Cobden-ridden Cue Card, a nine-time Grade One winner, were climbing over the last to win the battle for second over Tea For Two, the mount of Lizzie Kelly. These were no slouches.
The win continued the dominant early season form of Nigel Twiston-Davies – a string of big-win successes began when Bristol De Mai beat stablemate Blaklion in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase at the beginning of the month.
Now this grey, unbeaten from three starts at Haydock, will head to Kempton’s King George Chase on Boxing Day as connections dream of a £1m bonus that will be paid to any horse which wins jump racing’s big three – the Betfair Chase, the King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season.
Twiston-Davies said: “That was very good. I didn’t have to worry about too much.
“I only had to worry about the last few fences and he jumped them well.
“We’ve had a brief chat and the idea would be the King George, the Cotswold Chase and then the Gold Cup.
“You might not get this ground at Kempton, but we’ll see. I’m not that worried about it.”
Twiston-Davies compared Bristol De Mai to Imperial Commander who was beaten in the 2009 Betfair Chase by Kauto Star in a photo-finish before landing the blue riband Gold Cup the following March.
“He’s always worked fantastically well and he’s a supreme horse. He’s very much an Imperial Commander type – he’s a big, strong, gorgeous horse,” added the trainer.
“It was a bit of a rush to get the Gold Cup last year. He was ready, but I don’t think he was at his best. From what he does at home you wouldn’t think he’s improved from last season, but he obviously has.
“He was beaten 20 lengths in the Gold Cup. It’s a shame Sizing John isn’t here so we could find out how much he’s improved.”
The win completed a big-race double for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who also claimed the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot with Top Notch.
“That’s absolutely amazing. It’s wonderful. These are the days that one comes into racing for,” said Munir.
“Just speaking to Daryl and he’s in a state of shock. He was saying he wanted to increase the pace. He thought everybody had fallen behind him. To win by 57 lengths is amazing.
“I thought it could be game over when he got in two tight two out, but he’s a clever horse and he adjusts himself very well.
“The King George is what we’re looking at.”
Trainer Colin Tizzard accepted that Cue Card had been beaten by a horse on top of his game.
He said: “I think he’s run on par with his other runs.
“He’s just been beaten by a very good horse on the day. The winner blew the race away, really.
“He (Cue Card) jumped round and galloped on and finished second. We’ll go back home and see how he is.”
That said, the aforementioned Cobden, 19, did nothing wrong on Cue Card after replacing the horse’s regular rider Paddy Brennan in the saddle following a series of falls from jump racing’s most popular chaser.
He showed that he belonged on the big stage and the experience will stand the well-spoken champion conditional in good stead as his career heads to new heights.
His horsemanship was seen to good effect when Clan Des Obeaux provided Paul Nicholls with a sixth successive victory in the Betfair-sponsored graduation chase.
Clan Des Obeaux tracked Sue Smith’s leader Vintage Clouds into the home straight before powering seven lengths clear of the Yorkshire-trained runner up.
Nicholls’ assistant Harry Derham said: “Paul always likes to support these graduation chases and it’s great to win this race again.
“Two and a half miles in soft ground suits this horse well. Harry felt it suited him being held up, rather than making the running as he had to at Kempton last time.
“The plan after Kempton was to go for the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but then this race came up and traditionally there aren’t many runners, so he came here.
“We’ll get him home and see how he is. Nothing is set in stone. He’s only a five-year-old and hopefully he’ll keep progressing.”
Philip Hobbs is at a loss to explain Defi Du Seuil’s disappointing display in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
The JP McManus-owned four-year-old enjoyed an unbeaten juvenile campaign last season, winning each of his seven races, including the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He was a hot favourite to make a winning reappearance, but trailed home a well-beaten fourth behind Lil Rockerfeller.
Hobbs said: “He’s perfectly all right. It was obviously very disappointing and nothing’s come to light afterwards.
“We’ll watch him very closely in the next week and then make a plan. Barry Geraghty was happy enough at the fourth-last and as they turned into the straight, from there on he was struggling.”