HAYDOCK hosts the first Grade One in Britain this season with the Betfair Chase (3:00pm) on Saturday, and by the look of the early declarations it is set to be a cracker.
There isn’t any significant rainfall forecast at the Merseyside track ahead of race day, but with the going currently described as heavy, given the nature of Haydock’s ground, I expect it to remain at least soft come Saturday.
Those conditions make this race a real test over three-and-a-quarter miles and this is always a contest that exposes any flaws in a horse’s stamina.
However, as was the case with three-time winner of this race Bristol De Mai, some horses thrive under these conditions, and that certainly looked to be the case with PROTEKTORAT last season.
Dan Skelton’s son of Saint Des Saints, who is part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, powered clear of his rivals 12 months ago and while the odds-on favourite A Plus Tard underperformed, it was still a highly impressive performance in soft ground.
Protektorat has been prepared specially for this race, which has been earmarked as his main aim for the season, and he is likely to relish a slog around Haydock more than his rivals.
Ferguson celebrated a big winner on the Flat in Bahrain last week with Spirit Dancer and he could be swiftly back in the winners’ enclosure following another major success here.
Bravemansgame, who has been the subject of plenty of speculation this week following the news that regular rider Harry Cobden will head to Ascot rather than ride the Grade One winner, looks to be the main danger.
However, his main aim is surely going to be a bid to defend his crown in the King George on Boxing Day, and with that in mind I doubt that connections will want him to get drawn into a real slugfest with Protektorat down the long Haydock straight.
While there’s nothing much in his price, Protektorat looks by far the most likely winner to me and that makes him the selection at around 11/8.
Before the feature race of the day, there’s a competitive staying handicap hurdle (2:20pm) which looks a race worth getting stuck into.
Rapidly improving Crambo seems to be the right favourite but he’s short enough in the market given he has to lump 11st10lb on testing ground.
Emmet Mullins’ Slate Lane runs in the colours of Paul Byrne, meaning he has to be worthy of plenty of respect, but as we saw at Cheltenham in the Greatwood last weekend, they don’t all win.
If he is to triumph here off a low weight, at his price, I’d rather watch him do so.
Instead, I’m keen to take a chance on DUBROVNIK HARRY, who gets in here off a light weight and strikes me as a well-handicapped type.
He’s also entered over fences next weekend, but given he is likely to get his favoured soft ground and this is a valuable £125,000 contest, I imagine connections will be keen to take their chance in this.
He ran well on his reappearance over three miles at Cheltenham last month, finishing fourth and beaten just over six lengths, when looking as though he benefited from the test at the trip.
That run should have brought him forward and he could now be ready to take advantage, so Harry Fry’s runner looks worth siding with each-way at around 14/1.
Dubrovnik Harry e/w 2:20pm Haydock
Protektorat 3:00pm Haydock