Although only established in 2005, the Grade One Betfair Chase has now become the first of several major trials for chasers to produce their credentials as potential Cheltenham Gold Cup winners.
It is run at Haydock Park in November over a distance of three miles, with eighteen fences and has usually been a good race for past and present Gold Cup champions. Indeed the legendary Kauto Star has won it three times whilst the 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander went on to take the race the following season.
Somewhat ironically, the best ever finish to the race was in 2009 when Kauto Star hung on grimly from Imperial Commander to win the race by the shortest possible margin. It remains a finish where there are still plenty of punters believing that Imperial commander got up that day although, Ruby Walsh, jockey of Kauto Star that day maintains that they just held on.
Originally the Betfair Chase was introduced by Betfair to serve as the first leg of a bonus scheme known as the “Betfair Million”. The Betting Exchange offered a £1m bonus for the winner of the race to go on and win both the King George Vl Chase at Kempton Park, followed by the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in the same season. Kauto Star is the only horse to have achieved the feat, when he won all three in 2006/7.
That format and any other bonus format have since been dropped and the race is now simply a top quality chase that attracts the best chasers around and offers a purse well in excess of £200,000. It is officially registered as the Lancashire Chase
The first winner of the race was the Robert Alner trained Kingscliff but he failed in his subsequent bids at winning the King George Chase and Gold Cup and in fact, never won another race of any substance for the remaining years of his career.
The only other horse to win the race was the Peter Bowen trained, rank outsider Snoopy Loopy who won in 2008 in the race where Kauto Star famously unseated jockey, Sam Thomas in spectacular style at the last fence when coming to challenge. Snoopy Loopy never won another race but he did run with great credit in the subsequent Hennessey Gold Cup, just a week after his Betfair Chase victory, where he finished in third place behind Madison Du Berlais.
The seventh renewal of the race takes place on 19th November, where 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Long Run is almost certain to go off as the favourite. Paul Nicholls who trains Kauto Star has confirmed that the race will be on the agenda for his runner in what is his final season and that he might also run, Denman, winner of the 2008 Gold Cup and who has finished second in each of the last three renewals.
Other likely starters will be last year’s Hennessey Gold winner, Diamond Harry, the very consistent Wishful Thinking from the Phillip Hobbs yard and Time For Rupert, the highly regarded seven year old from the Paul Webber stable. Pandorama from the Noel Meade stable could be the major raider from across the Irish Sea.