A Plus Tard lays down Cheltenham Gold Cup marker with impressive Betfair Chase success

A Plus Tard made a stunning return to action with a comprehensive victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Well clear: A Plus Tard ridden by jockey Rachael Blackmore wins the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on Saturday. Picture: Simon Marper/PA Wire.

A close second to stablemate Minella Indo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, the Henry de Bromhead-trained runner was the 11-10 favourite to make a victorious reappearance on Merseyside.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Rachael Blackmore, A Plus Tard settled well off the early pace set by Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille and was still cantering in behind as the race really began with four to jump.

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Bristol De Mai, a three-times race winner, was the first to really give way, with A Plus Tard making effortless ground to come upsides Royale Pagaille and assume control with the minimum of fuss.

Disappointing: Three-time former winner Bristol De Mai was pulled up by jockey Daryl Jacob as hopes of a fourth victory in the race faded. (Photo by Mike Egerton - Pool/Getty Images)

Blackmore barely had to move as A Plus Tard kicked on approaching the second-last, clearing the final obstacle in style to coast home by 22 lengths from Royale Pagaille.

Chatham Street Lad and Clondaw Castle were the only other finishers, with Imperial Aura falling at the 13the fence and former three-time winner Bristol De Mai and Waiting Patiently both pulled up.

Coral, Betfair and Paddy Power all make A Plus Tard the 4-1 favourite to go one place better in the 2022 Gold Cup.

De Bromhead said of the Cheveley Park Stud-owned winner: “My heart was in my mouth as normal, but Rachael was brilliant and obviously A Plus Tard was brilliant as well.

“With his preference for left-handed tracks, this just seemed the obvious place to go - I was sick of getting beat in the Fortria Chase at Navan for the last couple of years over two miles!

“This is a fantastic race, it’s brilliant to win it and it’s brilliant for the Thompsons (of Cheveley Park).”

A Plus Tard created his own piece of history in victory, becoming the first Irish-trained winner of the race since its inception in 2005.

De Bromhead added: “After the 10th person told me no Irish horse had ever won it before, I started to wonder why we were here at all, but he’s got so much class.

“He’s won a Grade One over two (miles) and a couple of Grade Ones over three. He’s still only seven, so fingers crossed he’s got a long career ahead of him.

“He’s achieved a hell of a lot for a horse of his age. He’d been working really well and everyone was very happy with him.

“There’s a great crowd here and we always get a great reception.”

A Plus Tard is now set to tread a familiar route to the Cheltenham Festival, with Leopardstown the next port of call.

He snatched a dramatic victory in the Savills Chase last Christmas and a title defence is uppermost in the mind of De Bromhead, who has the King George at Kempton as a likely destination for Minella Indo.

He added: “Because of his preference for left-handed tracks, the Savills Chase at Leopardstown seems to be the sensible way to go.”

Blackmore had not previously ridden around Haydock, but she enjoyed her Merseyside debut.

She said: “That was incredible – I’ll definitely like coming back to Haydock from now on!

“It was a fantastic performance. He’s such a classy horse and couldn’t have done it any better.

“He jumped fantastically and felt superb and I was happy everywhere. It’s not often races are that straightforward, but it’s very enjoyable when they are.

“You only have to look back at what he’s done.

“It wasn’t his day in March, but he’s proved today he’s extremely good.”

Blackmore admits A Plus Tard is a personal favourite, having given her a breakthrough Festival win in the 2019 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.

“He’s very special to me as he gave me my first ever Cheltenham winner,” she added.

“He’s got gears, he stays and jumps really well. He cruises along without doing too much.

“He’s already established and is improving the whole time. He did nothing wrong in Cheltenham in March - everything went right for him and Minella Indo was a better horse on the day.

“Henry has got a massive yard of extremely talented horses and he is bang up there.”

Venetia Williams has set her sights on the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase for Royale Pagaille after his fine run.

The seven-year-old proved no match for winner A Plus Tard, but Williams took plenty of heart from the outing as Royale Pagaille was a clear second best – beating third-placed Chatham Street Lad by a further 22 lengths.

Having won a three-mile handicap chase at Kempton last Christmas, Williams would have no hesitation in heading back there for next month’s King George, as long as Royale Pagaille recovers sufficiently from an outing on ground that was a bit quicker than ideal.

She said: “I’m absolutely thrilled, we’ve won the English division and obviously the winner is an outstanding horse, so you have to be delighted.

“He goes on this ground, but I’ve got to look at his legs for the next fortnight, that’s really why we look for the softer ground.

“We’ll probably go for the King George next, he’s won twice round here and once round Kempton so we’ll try again.”

Popular grey Bristol De Mai was not suited by the unseasonably good ground.

He was bidding to equal Kauto Star’s record of a fourth Betfair Chase success, but jockey Daryl Jacob pulled him up before the penultimate obstacle when his chance had clearly gone.

The rider tweeted: “Not Bristol’s day today. We’re all very disappointed but he doesn’t owe us anything.