- Horse Racing
Silviniaco Conti wins Betfair Chase for Nicholls
Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh took the big one at Haydock on Saturday, claiming the Betfair Chase thanks to an impressive run from Silviniaco Conti.
On the day that retired superstar Kauto Star - who won the Betfair Chase on four occasions - was taken to see his statue, Silviniaco Conti ensured the race remained a successful one for Nicholls, winning by two-and-a-half lengths.
It was the fencing of the six-year-old that was so impressive, seemingly extending his lead with every jump along the three-mile course. Only a brief wobble at the last stained an otherwise flawless performance by the 7-4 shot, and favourite Long Run was really only battling for second against Giant Bolster.
"He is a really decent horse," Nicholls said. "He's only six, he jumps, he stays - he jumped brilliantly today. We had a chat before the race and I said if they go quick get a lead, if they don't then bowl along. He jumps and gallops. There's no better man to ride in front than Ruby.
"I said coming into today that if he won he would go for the Gold Cup and that is the plan. You couldn't leave him in his box on Gold Cup day after that performance. He definitely won't run in the King George, I don't think Kempton is his track.
"He won't run anywhere over Christmas, and he might even go straight to Cheltenham as he does go very well fresh. We could give him a run in something like the Aon but I certainly wouldn't be worried about going straight there with him."
Walsh added: "The Gold Cup looks the logical step. You win the Charlie Hall, you win the Betfair, it's the obvious target for him. We discussed it a few days ago and decided to come here. We were all of the same opinion not to go to Kempton on Boxing Day. We felt the King George would be more of a speed race this year with two-mile and two-and-a-half milers in there."
Victory marked a good day for Nicholls, who saw Easter Day win the Playboy Club London Novices' Hurdle at Ascot, while Black Thunder claimed the Betfair Handicap Hurdle at Haydock.
In the the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle, 10-3 favourite Sivola De Sivola could only manage a third-placed finish as Trustan Times crossed the line first for Tim Easterby. The winning margin, two-and-three-quarter lengths, was just reward after a real battle with second-placed Holywell.
Trustan Times had been handed an 8lb rise in the handicapper, something that did not sit well with Easterby prior to the race. But the six-year-old still had the necessary finish in him after American Spin had set the early pace.
Holywell was behind the 10-1 shot in second with Sivola De Sivola third, and Barafundle will be pleased with fourth after making a first start in over 600 days.
Easterby said of the winner: "That was really nice. I thought the handicapper had overdone him after Wetherby, but I was wrong and he was right. We ran him over fences last season and he was just getting into the bottom of one or two of them, so we decided to switch back to hurdles for a while. He could be a top chaser one day but we will stick to this for now."
At Ascot, favourite Oscar Whisky proved a predictable winner in the Coral Hurdle. The 8-15 favourite fell at the last in the previous running of the race, but came home eight lengths clear of the field on Saturday.
Nicky Henderson's charge was fast out the traps under Barry Geraghty, and as soon as Raya Star posted an interest the seven-year-old stepped on the gas for an easy win. Raya Star settled for second with Brampour third.
"He loved the ground, and that was a very smart performance," Henderson said. "We thought we would go to Cheltenham next month, then Ffos Las, possibly Fontwell, miss Cheltenham and go to Aintree but if it came up soft, you'd have to run him in the Champion Hurdle."
The Amlin 1965 Chase was won by Captain Chris, who sprinted clear of his rivals to claim victory by nearly four lengths. Philip Hobbs' charge ran an error-free race under Richard Johnson, returning starting odds of 7-2.
Captain Chris had shown relatively little form since his 2011 Arkle win, although he did come fourth in the Ryanair Chase. Johnson kept him against the inside rail as For Non Stop (second) and Finian's Rainbow (fourth) both ran into trouble - the latter stumbling over the last, and it became a procession as Ghizao completed the places.
Captain Chris is now being quoted at 10-1 for the King George. "The King George would be the obvious race to go for now," Hobbs said. "He'd like better ground and was third in it last year, so I don't think the trip will be a problem."
Winning jockey Johnson added: "The ground would not have suited, but if he hadn't run today he might not have run until March given the weather. He jumped pretty straight and something like the King George would be on the agenda now as after that he deserves his chance."