A mouth-watering clash between 2015 Festival hero Coneygree and Cue Card, who was travelling so well when falling three out in this year’s Gold Cup, will take place live on Sky Racing on Saturday night.
Haydock stages a seven-race-card with the Grade 1 Betfair Chase taking centre-stage where Coneygree will make his much anticipated reappearance against Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card who will looking to get his season back on track in a race he was so impressive in winning last year. Mark Bradstock’s Coneygree has been absent for a year since winning a Listed Intermediate Chase at Sandown, his only run since his thrilling victory at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. The nine-year-old won the Gold Cup as a novice (the first to do so since Captain Christy in 1974) and due to injury problems remains lightly-raced being unbeaten in five starts over fences. Coneygree had a spin around Haydock a week ago in preparation for his return and delighted connections not only with the workout but also how he pulled up afterwards. The forecast soft ground at Haydock is also very much in his favour as he’s dependant on getting his toe in and encountered similar conditions in the 2015 Gold Cup.
A superb jumper and tough front-runner, if he makes it spot on Coneygree’s undoubted talent will make him very hard to beat but connections of Cue Card will also be pleased by the guarantee of pace which will suit his style of racing. Cue Card failed to win the Charlie Hall Chase for the second year running on his last start, finishing third to Irish Cavalier who reopposes off 4lb worse terms. The latter remains an improving seven-year-old and it will be fascinating to see whether he can make the step up again although he had the benefit of a run before Wetherby while Cue Card will undoubtedly be stronger here.
Of the remaining entries for Saturday’s highlight, Silviniaco Conti and Seeyouatmidnight add further intrigue. Like Cue Card, the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti has a superb record in this race with two wins and two places from four runnings and the conditions clearly suit him well. The ten-year-old heads here just two weeks after finishing second in the Grade 1 Champion Chase at Down Royal. We know all about Silviniaco Conti, however in contrast Seeyouatmidnight is a rapidly improving eight-year-old who now gets his chance against some of the best chasers in training. His trainer Sandy Thomson has done a great job with him and he couldn’t have been impressive in winning a Listed Intermediate Chase at Carlisle last time but his jumping, much as it was when well beaten in last season’s RSA Chase at the Festival, will be put to the test and he will face competition for the lead from Coneygree.
This is a fascinating renewal and I find it hard to oppose the brilliant Coneygree, whose will to win remains so much to admire along with his superb jumping ability, and although it will take another substantial effort to win a race of this quality after such an absence it pays to remember that this is a horse who won a particularly strong renewal of the Gold Cup on just his fourth run over fences.