So the experts had rather forgotten Bristol De Mai when providing us with the benefit of their wisdom before Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock. This was meant to be a duel between Might Bite’s speed and Native River’s stamina, in which the former would triumph. Last year’s distance winner and course specialist hardly got a mention, on account that he could only win in the mud.
Bristol De Mai proved them wrong and retained his title in the season’s first Grade 1 this side of the Irish Sea. What the race lacked in numbers was compensated by quality. In an intriguing renewal, Thistlecrack made a promising return running third, but evens favourite Might Bite finished last of the five.
Perhaps one of the most surprising features given the number of fallers on the rest of the card, was that all runners made it home. Much was being made during the meeting of the size of the new fences, forcing clerk to the course Kirkland Tellwright to take to the camera and explain that they would be sorted out before the next meeting and a bit shaved off the top.
The view of the jockeys was that the fences were large, but the issue lay elsewhere. Clan Des Obeaux rider Harry Cobden said: “The fences were very big but that was not an issue; it was just the fact the top of the fences were tightly packed and horses flicking over them were turning over”. Tom Scudamore who won the Graduation Chase and rode Thistlecrack in the Betfair, put it another way: “They were big and stiff …The presentation of the fences was fine but the stiffness was catching them out”.
So maybe it is a case of size doesn’t matter, it’s the stiffness that counts.