Nigel Twiston-Davies has backed the “exceptional” Bristol De Mai to emulate Kauto Star by securing a record-equalling fourth victory in Saturday’s Betfair Chase.
It is 10 years since Kauto Star brought the house down at Haydock for the fourth and final time, a feat which means the Paul Nicholls-trained superstar is immortalised in bronze on Merseyside.
Twiston-Davies is hoping his long-time stable star can earn similar recognition this weekend by adding to his previous triumphs in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
He said: “Bristol De Mai is really special to us – he has been exceptional.
“We were lucky to have both him and The New One going great guns at the same time.
“Bristol hasn’t quite won the Gold Cup I always wanted, but he was third once and he’s doing OK.
“It would be just great to equal Kauto Star. He would be remembered forever and who knows, there may even be a race named after him!”
The flying gray has won five of his six starts at Haydock overall, his only defeat coming in this race when runner-up to Lostintranslation two years ago.
Bristol De Mai has been off the track since being pulled up in the Grand National in April and is not getting any younger at the age of 10, but Twiston-Davies is confident he is at the top of his game.
“He’s easy to get fit, that’s the beauty of it, and we’re all primed and ready to go,” said the Naunton-based trainer.
“There was one year where he was second and that year we really struggled with lameness problems and he didn’t quite get there 100 percent.
“We’re as happy as we’ve ever been with him fitness-wise.
“The race looks as hot as ever really, but the one thing he always has in his favor is that he’s so easy to get fit and I wonder whether they all will be as fit as he is – hopefully not.”
Conditions at Haydock will not be as testing as is usually the case at this time of year, but Twiston-Davies is unconcerned.
He said: “The track suits him and he’s won this race on good ground before (in 2018), so hopefully it won’t be a problem.
“It’s just a superb track, I love the track and it seems to suit our horses.
“Bristol likes to be able to boss races and there are two long straights and easy bends, so he can just get out there and do his stuff.”
Having saddled Kauto Star for his four victories, and also struck gold twice with Silviniaco Conti, Nicholls is this year represented by Next Destination in his bid for a seventh Betfair Chase success.
The lightly-raced nine-year-old is fitted with cheek-pieces on his first outing since filling the runner-up spot in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March.
“He’s a high-class horse who is hopefully progressive and we always rated him highly – potentially he’s got a huge engine,” said Nicholls.
“He’s had an away-day – he had a good piece over two miles at Exeter with Saint Calvados and Rouge Vif and a couple of others that ran last weekend. He’s had a really good preparation.
“It’s been a good race for us in the past and we’d love to win it again.”
Waiting Patiently has not managed to get his head in front since beating Cue Card at in the 2018 Ascot Chase, but has won at Haydock before and new trainer Christian Williams is excited about his chances.
“He’s very classy and we just pray we can run him on Saturday. As long as the ground doesn’t get any quicker, I think we’ll take our chance,” said the Welsh handler.
“We’re confident. We’ve only had him a few months, but we don’t think we can get him any better.
“It’s a sharp track, flat track and he’s got form round there, so I think he’s got plenty in his favour.”
Another horse who has already shown an affinity for the track is the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille, who was a brilliant winner of the Peter Marsh Chase over the course and distance in January.
He finished lame when a well-beaten sixth in the Gold Cup in the spring, but is reported to be in good form ahead of his return by jockey Charlie Deutsch.
He said: “He has proven he can win a good race off top-weight in a good handicap and we know he likes the track, which is a bonus.
“He picked up a foot injury in the Gold Cup. His jumping was not as good as it normally is and whether that was down to the foot I don’t know. I’m not looking into that result too much as hopefully he is still improving.
“I’ve done a bit of schooling on him at home and I’ve done a few pieces of work on him and all seems great at the moment.”
Imperial Aura looked every inch a top-class chaser in the making after winning his first two starts of last season, but unseated his rider at Kempton in January and was pulled up at Cheltenham in March.
Trainer Kim Bailey is hoping a subsequent wind operation will help him bounce back, while he is keen to see how he fares beyond three miles.
He said: “He has always been a horse that I felt would be better over a longer trip, though he is quite a quick horse. Going back up to three miles shouldn’t be a problem.
“It is a flat track at Haydock and I think the race will suit him.
“He has had a breathing operation over the summer and he seems in a really good place. I think you just have to walk away from the second half of last season.
“Is he good enough? God only knows, but at the end of it he is a very talented individual and he has got serious ability.”
Tom George expects Clondaw Castle to improve from his third-placed finish in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, saying: “The ground at Wetherby ended up being too soft. That track on that ground first time out just found him out as it stretched his stamina.
“The positive is that Haydock is a much sharper track and the ground looks like being better. Provided it doesn’t rain, you should see a different horse.
“I’m not a betting man, but I think he can put it up against quite a few of them if the ground stays as it is.”
The rank outsider is Chatham Street Lad, who needs to raise his game significantly judged on an uninspiring start to his season in the Munster National at Limerick.
“He looks great in himself and by the sound of things the ground will be safe, which is the main thing,” said trainer Mick Winters.
“We hope he blew up and then ran on in the race in Limerick and he came out of it well.
“I suppose you’d be a small bit worried you might be out of your depth in a race like this. It’s a big ask, but if he can hunt around and pick up the pieces and comes home safely that’ll be great. “