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Betfair Chase

In the end, it was a rout. A Plus Tard first, his rivals floundering in his wake. In a matter of strides at Haydock yesterday, an intriguing Grade 1 Betfair Chase – in which you could have argued a cogent case for the majority of the seven runners – was turned into a victory procession.

The Betfair Chase roll of honour was missing an Irish-trained horse before yesterday. Beef Or Salmon had finished second in the race twice and third once, and Outlander finished third behind Bristol De Mai in 2017, but in its 16-year history, there had never been an Irish winner.

And, in Bristol De Mai, Henry de Bromhead’s horse faced a Haydock institution yesterday, a Betfair Chase perennial. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse had only been beaten once in six previous runs at Haydock, and he had won three of the previous four renewals of the Betfair Chase. Yesterday, he was bidding to emulate the great Kauto Star by winning four.

By contrast, A Plus Tard had never been to Haydock before. Also, he had been beaten on his seasonal debut every year since he joined de Bromhead in 2018. But those three seasonal debuts were all over shorter trips than yesterday’s near three and a quarter miles, and there was a confidence behind him in the pre-race market that belied that stat.

That confidence grew as he jumped and travelled smoothly through his race for Rachael Blackmore. Settled nicely in fourth place behind pace-setters Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille, the Cheveley Park Stud’s horse inherited third place when Imperial Aura departed at the middle fence in the back straight final time. He travelled easily into the home straight, and he jumped up between Royale Pagaille and Bristol De Mai at the fourth last fence. When he landed over the third last in a share of the lead, Rachael Blackmore gave her horse a squeeze and, when she did, A Plus Tard cut loose.

In a matter of strides, and with minimal apparent effort, he came away from his field. About 15 lengths ahead of his rivals by the time he rose to the final fence, he cleared away on the run-in like a fresh horse under his near-motionless rider, putting 22 lengths between himself and Royale Pagaille by the time he got to the winning line.

“He was brilliant,” said de Bromhead, who had earlier watched on television from Haydock as his exciting novice chaser Bob Olinger ran out an impressive winner of his beginners’ chase on his chasing debut at Gowran Park. “Rachael was brilliant on him. It’s fantastic to win this race. He’d been working really well, so we were hoping for a big run. He’s only a seven-year-old, he’s achieved a hell of a lot for a horse of his age.”

Second behind Minella Indo in a famous Henry de Bromhead Cheltenham Gold Cup 1-2 last March, a return to Cheltenham next March is surely the ultimate aim for A Plus Tard this season.

“He has this preference for a left-handed track,” said his trainer, “so the Savills Chase at Leopardstown looks like the logical next race for him again now.”

Bookmakers reacted to yesterday’s win by cutting A Plus Tard’s Cheltenham Gold Cup odds from 7/1 and 8/1 to 7/2 and 4/1, clear favourite in front of his stable companion Minella Indo.

“It was fantastic,” said Rachael Blackmore. “He’s an extremely classy horse, and it was a very enjoyable race to ride. Everyone at home was very happy with him, he was ready for today, and he did it very well. He’s got gears, he stays, he jumps really well. He’s got a very nice style of running, he cruises along without doing too much. It was a very good performance. He was a little bit more on his toes today than usual, but Henry’s horses are in fantastic form, and it’s great to be part of that team.”

Earlier in the day, Bravemansgame ran out an impressive winner of the graduation chase. His jumping was very good, and he kept on well over the last two fences for Harry Cobden to beat the talented Itchy Feet by just under three lengths, leaving the impression that he had a fair bit more in hand than that.

“I enjoyed that,” said winning trainer Paul Nicholls. “He jumped from fence to fence. He’s very athletic for a big horse. We’ll head for the Grade 1 Kauto Star Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He’s maturing all the time.”

© The Sunday Times, 21st November 2021