Ruby Walsh looks ahead to the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park
Five horses go to post for the £200,000 event headed by the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero who is trained by Henry De Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore.
The eight-year-old was an emphatic winner of the 2021 running by 22 lengths, slamming his six rivals in a seismic performance. Beaten a short-head by Galvin in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, A Plus Tard produced one of the great Gold Cup performances of recent times when powering to a 15-length success in Jump Racing’s Blue Riband event in March at the Cheltenham Festival.
De Bromhead’s stable star faces four rivals in the extended three miles and one furlong event, including three-time winner Bristol De Mai who remarkably lines up in this contest for the sixth time. Ryanair Chase third Eldorado Allen and King George hero Frodon are both interesting rivals.
However, the stiffest challenge looks set to come from Protektorat for Dan and Harry Skelton. Part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, the seven-year-old is already a Grade One scorer over fences and produced a classy performance when landing the Many Clouds Chase last term. He went on to finish best of the British challenge when a fine third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, over 17 lengths behind A Plus Tard. However, he remains an unexposed chaser capable of further progression.
Connections of A Plus Tard are keen to stick to a similar path this season and Walsh, who recorded all four of his Betfair Chase successes aboard dual Gold Cup hero Kauto Star, believes he can once again light up the staying chase division this term.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s contest, Walsh said: “To me A Plus Tard does not have to do anything other than he did last year. He was so impressive in this race. Coming into the home straight, Rachael Blackmore had to essentially slow him down because he was going that well. The ease of which he won last year, it was a case of how far is he going to win by.
“Eventually, Rachael let him go and win his race and he was so impressive. He won by a country mile and he is undoubtedly the one to beat again this year.
“I think the only feasible opposition this year is Protektorat. However, he has a lot of ground to make up with A Plus Tard based on their Gold Cup run and it’s an awful lot of ground to make up. Tactics is going to be interesting. What does Harry Skelton do? In the Gold Cup, they both dropped in a little bit and I just don’t see how their Gold Cup positions can be turned around.
“I think Rachael will have learnt plenty from defeat in the Savills Chase last year. If They go a real strong gallop, she will park A Plus Tard three or four lengths behind the leaders and then eventually go by them. She has great confidence in the horse.”
The multiple Grade One winning rider and Racing TV pundit also recalled some of his memories of Saturday’s big race aboard the mighty Kauto Star who remains the winning-most horse in the race’s history.
“Kauto Star’s win in the 2011 renewal was particularly special. He had come back from a disappointing time the year before and people were calling for him to be retired. Paul Nicholls had a big decision to make, but he had him primed for Haydock. We sort of changed tactics and went from the front taking on Long Run. He answered every question and it was a wonderful day because I still remember the noise at Haydock. I think that day saw Kauto win them over.
“People love to see the downed champion bounce back on that day, that’s exactly what he did.”
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