REIGNING champion Bristol De Mai saw off four classy rivals to record back-to-back Betfair Chase titles in a vintage renewal at Haydock Park on Saturday.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained grey produced a career-best performance having set off at odds of 13/2, getting the better of Gold Cup Champion Native River and King George winner Might Bite.
Winning jockey Daryl Jacob sent his mount to the front of affairs in the race from the get-go, and though all five runners were still in with a chance at the penultimate fence, it was Bristol De Mai who stayed on best, crossing the line in front by four lengths from Native River to notch up a tenth career victory.
Even-money favourite Might Bite inexplicably ran out of stamina before the final obstacle and walked past the finishing post plumb last, 29 lengths behind the winner.
Bristol De Mai’s triumph is all the more remarkable given that his very participation in the race, dubbed a ‘Gold Cup in November’ by pundits, was seen as touch-and-go on account of conditions to which he was supposedly ill-suited.
But the popular seven-year-old soon made a mockery of suggestions that he could not compete on fast ground as he put to the sword a highly select field of top class three-milers to make it four wins from as many starts at Haydock Park.
Trainer Twiston-Davies declared that the result had enshrined Bristol De Mai’s status as “one of the real top horses in the country”, saying that his charge’s performance had defied the “nonsense” suggestions from analysts that he would struggle without soft ground.
The 2018 Betfair Chase, the first ‘Triple Crown’ race of the National Hunt season, had been touted as an exciting rematch between recent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River and runner-up Might Bite.
But that particular rivalry proved merely a sideshow as neither horse was able to stop Bristol De Mai romping to victory.
Native River, running in unfavourable conditions, finished a gallant second in what his trainer Colin Tizzard believed was a run “right up to his best”.
The same can certainly not be said for Might Bite, who went off the heavily-backed favourite and was tipped to win by many racing pundits, including Sir AP McCoy.
The Nicky Henderson trained 9-year-old seemed to be travelling well but his tank quickly emptied after jumping the penultimate obstacle, resulting in a last-place finish.
Henderson was at a loss when asked to explain why his beloved chaser had disappointed so badly. He said: “[Might Bite] wasn’t jumping like usual… maybe he just wasn’t as straight as we thought”.
Colin Tizzard’s second entrant in the race, 2016 King George winner Thistlecrack, proved that he still retains much of his old sparkle when finishing a valiant third after a 333-day injury layoff.
Thistlecrack’s lionhearted charge up the final straight was a stirring sight for many racing fans, and though the 10-year old’s series of luckless health setbacks have robbed him of his prime days, this showing proved that he remains a big player in Grade 1 contests.
The race’s other competitor, Clan Des Obeaux, ran creditably to finish fourth. At just six years of age, it was a promising performance which indicated that he is more than capable of improving enough in the future to win races of this calibre.
Bristol De Mai will now head to Kempton Park on Boxing Day for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the King George VI Chase.
He will likely face Might Bite once again, along with 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree, reigning Queen Mother Champion Chaser Altior, and promising Irish raider Bellshill in what looks another tantalising potential classic for racing fans to anticipate.
View the 2018 Betfair Chase here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZahsCi-Ucg
By Jacob Green, former exercise rider for Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson
This year’s most fascinating renewal of the Betfair Chase provided unexpected answers to our biggest questions.
Bristol De Mai’s victory will have silenced his critics and dispelled any ground concerns held before the race.
Daryl Jacob looked confident on board the winner throughout, checking over his shoulder for dangers as he cruised past a pushed-along Native River on the home turn.
Always doing plenty up the final straight, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ winner was value for more than just his four-length winning distance.
Colin Tizzard will have reason to be pleased after both his charges ran solid races.
Native River was his usual consistent self. Helping to make the pace alongside Bristol De Mai, Richard Johnson’s mount found himself outpaced entering the home straight, staying on doggedly to finish a never-threatening second.
Tizzard’s other runner, Thistlecrack, produced a mighty performance in third. Despite a few unconvincing jumps, his ability clearly remains as he finished just five-and-three-quarter lengths behind the winner.
This was a nice run to get under his belt and good ground could see him run a blinder in the King George if he’s entered.
Might Bite was the big disappointment of the race. He looked to have every chance as he moved smoothly into contention on the home bend. But Nicky Henderson’s runner found very little off the bridle, dropping away tamely before the final fence. It looks like it’s back to the drawing board for his connections.