Bristol De Mai is unquestionably the greatest racehorse ever to bear the name of the capital city of the West Country. I challenge anyone to argue against me.
I said, I might even have wrote, after he won the Peter Marsh last season, that there was a big race in him and on Saturday he achieved my prediction. It was a bloodless victory; indeed it was a race only in name. I rather suspect he might even have bucked, kicked and squealed the morning after the race, so easy was his victory. No horse has ever beaten Cue Card by 57 lengths and I doubt if anyone thought it even possible.
Quite why the experts are righting off Bristol De Mai as a Gold Cup contender is beyond me. At six-years-of-age he can only improve and while all his best form is on heavy ground who is to say he will not prove as effective on good-to-soft. His inch perfect jumping alone warrants respect come next March.
Of course the form of this year’s Betfair cannot be wholly relied upon as all the beaten horses have run stones below their best yet I wouldn’t bet against Bristol De Mai winning the King George as Nigel Twiston-Davis is a magician with these doughty stayers. How he will cope, though, if Coneygree rediscovers his zest is another matter and it will be some spectacle if the two take each other on from flag fall.
It has to be questioned why one of the supposedly top three chases for Gold Cup horses is run at Haydock, a track known for little else in winter but hock-deep ground conditions hardly suitable for determining the great from the good. Betfair should be applauded for their initiative but is the race really a success? The £1-million bonus is not necessarily the great incentive it is thought to be, especially when the reigning champ is kept at home due to the prevailing heavy ground and most of the good, up and coming horses stayed away. Last year Cue Card had a stroll in the park, as Bristol De Mai has had this year. If you go down the betting market for the King George only Bristol De Mai and Cue Card out of the six runners are mentioned. There was also no Might Bite or Thistlecrack in the Betfair, no Sizing John, Fox Norton, Douvan, Djakadam, Road To Respect, Top Notch or Whisper, also Yorkhill, Native River and Coneygree were never considered for the race. How can the race be thought of as a success if most of the class of horses it is designed for are not even entered?
If anyone had asked me for my opinion on the three races to combine for a £1-million bonus I would have suggested the obvious two plus the Hennessey or the Ladbroke Trophy that has now replaced it. A handicap! You might exclaim. Why yes. And this is why.
Kauto Star is without doubt the greatest steeplechaser since Arkle. Not within a stone of Arkle but still the second best of all time. Yet the greatest performances of the last twenty years came from his stable-mate Denman in his two epic Hennessey victories. Arkle achieved his record rating due to victories in similar races, not through his bloodless dominance of the Gold Cup.
The connections of the top chasers should be encouraged, should have a £1-million carrot dangled before them, to run their horses in a handicap so we can determine their true ability. I suggest the thrill and spectacle of what is now the Ladbroke Trophy would prove a greater determiner of ability than a slog through the Haydock mud.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.