Haydock officials expecting soft ground for big meeting

Haydock Park officials expect soft ground for their big two-day meeting
Haydock Park officials expect soft ground for their big two-day meeting

Conditions for the eagerly-awaited clash between Coneygree and Cue Card in the Betfair Chase are expected to be soft at Haydock on Saturday.

The ground was described as soft, good to soft in places on Tuesday, but further rain is forecast before the big race.

While five millimetres of rain fell on Monday, 20mm more is expected during the rest of the week, with cooler temperatures.

The Grade One showpiece is set to attract Cue Card, the winner in 2013 and 2015, alongside the return from injury of 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree.

“At the moment we are soft, good to soft in places, but there is more rain to come so we look like being soft at the weekend,” said clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright.

“I don’t think that will cause us any problems. Most of the protagonists are up for that.”

Richard Johnson is unlikely to know until Thursday morning as to whether or not he can ride Coneygree in the big race.

The champion jockey schooled the 2015 Gold Cup on Tuesday morning and is trainer Mark Bradstock’s first choice for the plum mount on Saturday.

But Philip Hobbs, to whom Johnson is stable jockey, has Menorah engaged in the same race, while he also has a clutch of big names entered at Ascot on the same day.

The Minehead handler said: “It will be a Thursday morning decision - the 48-hour declaration stage for the Betfair Chase. We won’t know until then. It depends on the weather.”

Tom George has given God’s Own another option, as well as Haydock’s Betfair Chase, by putting his three-time Grade One winner in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

The eight-year-old is one of 10 entries for the Grade Two feature over two miles and five furlongs after the race was reopened.

George will monitor the weather at both tracks before deciding which race to aim for.

God’s Own, who defeated the ill-fated Vautour in the Boylesports Champion Chase at Punchestown in April, made a pleasing reappearance when second to Third Intention in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree last month.

“He’s in good form and we’re ready to go,” said the Slad trainer.

“He’s in at Haydock as well. We’ll just have to see what the weather does during the week.

“The better the ground, the better it is for him, so we’ll be going wherever the ground is best.

“He’ll go on good to soft but we don’t want to go if it’s soft ground.

“We wouldn’t want to test his stamina over three miles on ground that was too soft for him.

“We’re totally ground dependent, so it’s what happens over the next few days.”

Vezelay is set to add a dash of Gallic flair to the Betfair Chase with trainer Emmanuel Clayeux travelling over from France with his horse on Tuesday.

The seven-year-old is not the most obvious contender for Grade One glory as a general 50-1 shot, but Clayeux admits is is hard to find suitable opportunities in France for a horse who has bagged just short of £430,000 in prize-money.

A winner at both Grade Two and Three level over fences, Vezelay was also third behind multiple Grade One winner Milord Thomas in the Prix la Haye Jousselin last November but did not fare quite so well when only seventh in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris back in May.

He recently finished second over hurdles at Auteuil and regular jockey Felix de Giles, who used to ride for the likes of Nicky Henderson earlier in his career, is set to be in the saddle once again.

Clayeux said: “We plan to run. It will be a difficult race for him but it is hard to find a race for him in France as he has won a lot of money.

“I wouldn’t want too much rain. Soft ground would be good for him. The distance is fine for him and Felix de Giles, who is my first rider, is English and he will know the track.”

Seeyouatmidnight is as low as 8-1 to land a first Grade One victory in the race.

He finished a creditable third in the Scottish Grand National on his final start last term and opened this season with a comfortable 12-length victory over Bristol De Mai at Carlisle last month.

Sandy Thomson’s charge is due to be ridden by in-form Brian Hughes, who had a five-timer at Musselburgh on Monday.

Hughes said: “He’s very well, we’ll just have to hope for a bit of luck. Obviously he’ll need to improve again on what he did at Carlisle and this is a step into the unknown. He should have his ground at least.”