SMITH HOPING FOR BETFAIR HANDICAP HURDLE REPEAT & UNDENIABLE AMONG 21 IN FANTASTIC totesport.com BECHER CHASE
The North West Masters is poised to deliver two days of top quality jump racing at the north west's two premier racecourses, with fantastic fields declared at both Haydock Park tomorrow, Saturday, November 18, and Aintree on Sunday, November 19.
Market leader Kauto Star heads a top class field of six for Saturday's showcase event at Haydock, the £200,000 Grade One Betfair Chase (1.50pm), while Sunday's Aintree card is set to be a thriller with two races over the world famous Grand National fences - the £100,000 totesport.com Becher Chase (2.35pm), which has a superb 21-strong field, and the £60,000 totepool Grand Sefton (1.30pm), which will see 23 horses go to post for what promises to be an exciting spectacle.
Haydock Park's excellent six-race card tomorrow also includes a mouth-watering renewal of the £100,000 Betfair Handicap Hurdle (2.20pm), which has attracted a very competitive field of 17.
Trainer Sue Smith will be double-handed in the two mile, seven and a half-furlong contest with the classy Royal Emperor and last year's victor St Matthew.
Royal Emperor, who defeated the reopposing top-weight Millenium Royal in the Grade Two Rendlesham Hurdle over the course and distance in February, is reported to be in fine form despite being pulled up in the Grade Two bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October, and then falling in the Grade Three Servo Computer Services Trophy at Cheltenham on November 11.
Smith revealed this morning: "Royal Emperor is in extremely good form with himself. He does go very well round Haydock and stays every inch of three miles, and I would say that the horse will run well.
"He has had two runs over fences this season and has been a bit unlucky so far, so we've opted to put him back over hurdles this time and see how he gets on.
St Matthew defeated subsequent Grade One World Hurdle victor My Way De Solzen by a neck in a thrilling finish to the Betfair Handicap Hurdle 12 months ago and is set to defend his crown.
The eight-year-old has been off the course since suffering an injury when falling in the Grade Three skybet.com Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on December 26.
Smith reported: "It's St Matthew's first trip out this season and it's a good place for him to start as there aren't a lot of opportunities for him. He chipped his hock, so it's due to the nature of the injury he suffered that we're starting off over hurdles and not over fences.
"We've done as much work as we can with him at home so we're going to Haydock and hoping that he just runs a good race."
The £100,000 contest sees the Francois Doumen-trained Grade One winner Millenium Royal head the weights on 11st 12lb, while other contenders include the David Pipe-trained Korelo, the Howard Johnson-trained course and distance Grade Two victor Mephisto, and Grade One-winning mare United, trained by Lucy Wadham.
Other contenders include classy veteran Tees Components, smart chaser Halcon Genelardais, Jazz D'Estruval, Be Be King and Two Miles West.
Smith is also represented in the feature race at Aintree on Sunday, November 19, with Undeniable primed for a first taste of the Grand National fences in the £100,000 totesport.com Becher Chase over three and a quarter miles.
The eight-year-old posted his best effort last term when third to You're Special in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He was pulled up on his seasonal bow at Carlisle on November 12.
Smith revealed: "Undeniable seems very good in himself. He had a run at Carlisle last week but the ground was very heavy, so I'm not quite sure whether this might come a bit quick.
"We were slightly unfortunate to have a little set-back with him, and that's what made his comeback run a little later than normal.
"He's an excellent jumper round the park courses. He's scopey enough and yet he's careful enough so I sincerely hope that he does cope with the fences. I think that you need a bit of both of those attributes round Aintree but we'll find out on Sunday.
"David O'Meara will ride Undeniable and it looks like Padge Whelan and Mick O'Connell will ride either of St Matthew and Royal Emperor."
A cracking renewal of the totesport.com Becher Chase is in prospect with 21 runners including 2003 victor and John Smith's Grand National regular Clan Royal, trained by Jonjo O'Neill, as well as the Paul Nicholls-trained Eurotrek, Irish raider Dun Doire from the Tony Martin yard, and the Venetia Williams-trained 2006 John Smith's Grand National fourth Nil Desperandum.
The superb field also includes last season's totesport.com Becher Chase runner-up Le Duc, 2005 Scottish Grand National hero Joe's Edge, 2004 Grand Sefton Chase winner Forest Gunner, and the Donald McCain-trained Inca Trail.
Aintree's six-race card on Sunday also features the totepool Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over two miles, five and a half furlongs of the Grand National course, and 23 runners are set to make it a thriller, including 2005 victor Hakim, trained by John Spearing.
The field also includes last season's third, fifth and sixth - Shannon's Pride, trained by 2003 John Smith's Grand National-winning rider Richard Guest, the Steve Brookshaw-trained Cassia Heights and Wain Mountain from Jim Old's yard.
A superb two days of racing commence at Haydock Park on Saturday, November 18, at 1.20pm with the Listed Pontin's Holidays Newton Novices' Chase, which is followed by the Grade One Betfair Chase (1.50pm).
The Betfair Chase is the first leg of the ground-breaking Betfair Million, which offers a generous £1 million bonus to any horse that wins three of the season's most prestigious Grade One three-mile chases - the Betfair Chase followed by either the Stan James King George VI Chase at Kempton or the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period and then adds the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Day two of the North West Masters kicks off at Aintree with the Weatherbys Bank Juvenile Novices' Hurdle (1.00pm), in which the Howard Johnson-trained classy Flat recruit Degas Art will bid to make it two wins from two over hurdles.
The six-race card also features a high-quality renewal of the Amberleigh House Novices' Chase (3.10pm) in which the Johnson-trained Lennon will bid to add a second chase success to his impressive debut success at Aintree on October 21.
He faces stiff opposition in the six-strong field from the Paul Nicholls-trained Blu Teen, Swing Bill from the Henrietta Knight yard, the Evan Williams-trained Backstage, as well as Henry Daly's Opera De Coeur and The Ferdy Murphy-trained L'Antartique.
Amberleigh House, the 2004 John Smith's Grand National hero, will parade in the paddock before the race and on the course, with Carrie Ford up, before the totesport.com Becher Chase.
Tickets are available from both Haydock and Aintree -
Tickets are still available for both racedays.
01942 402 624 (Haydock)
0151 522 2929 (Aintree)
Accommodation booking is available on 0845 601 1125
REGION HOPING FOR FURTHER SUCCESS
The 2005 North West Masters attracted nearly 20,000 visitors into the region with research showing that over £1.7million was spent by racegoers attending the meeting. Saturday's racing at Haydock Park saw over 12,000 people packed into its stands - the biggest jumping attendance for over 20 years - with Aintree attracting over 7,000 visitors, despite only passing a midday inspection.
Martin King, Director of Tourism at The Mersey Partnership, said: "The North West Masters event last year proved a resounding success and I'm confident that this year's will prove to be even bigger and better. I see the Masters as becoming another major fixture in Merseyside's incredible calendar of festivals and events."
After the racing at Haydock on the Saturday, the first day will be celebrated with a FREE star studded music event in conjunction with Wish FM, featuring a performance by X-Factor star Andy Abraham, in Victoria Square, St. Helens town centre which will coincide with the town's spectacular Christmas lights switch-on.
Bus services link the racecourse directly to St. Helens town centre courtesy of Mersey Travel. Further information is also available by going to www.visitliverpool.com/northwestmasters