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Haydock Park Betfair Chase Fiasco: Officials Accept Blame for Not Altering Fences

Haydock Park Grandstand
Photo © Alexander P Kapp (cc-by-sa/2.0) (cropped)

In Saturday’s Betfair Chase meeting at Haydock Park, a whopping seven of the 25 horses that ran in the chase-based races on the day either fell or unseated their rider.

That’s an unusually high percentage; and something that Haydock Park officials have accepted the blame for after failing to adjust fences in line with the recommendations of the British Horseracing Authority’s inspector of courses, Chris Dennis.

And Nicky Henderson, trainer of the bookmakers’ favourite for the Betfair Chase, Might Bite, hinted that the state of the fences at the famous track had cost his charge a chance of winning the title.

High and Mighty

National Hunt Horse Race

It’s amazing that this story hasn’t been more widely publicised given that the Betfair Chase is one of the most lucrative – and wagered upon – races in the early going of the National Hunt campaign.

Dennis, on the morning of the meeting, had turned up at Haydock park to do his usual inspection work. As he walked the track, he noticed that the fences were both taller and stiffer than expected, and observed that they should be altered prior to the start of the first race.

But it seemed the changes were not adequate, with Dennis commenting that the fences were ‘still quite high and on the stiff side’ as the meeting unfolded.

The Guardian has reported that several jockeys expressed their concern about the fences after four of the fourteen runners fell in the opening chase of the day.

Haydock’s clerk of the course, Kirkland Tellwright, admitted the error, saying that for upcoming meetings fences would be ‘a shade lower and not as deep’ – although that will be of small consolation to Might Bite backers.

“The inspector noted the height and stiffness of some of the fences and included in his report that, while the course was generally in good condition, some of the fences should be reduced in height and cut back in the front to reduce stiffness,” read a report from the BHA’s Robin Mounsey.

“Whilst work was carried out to this extent and the course was raceable, on the Saturday, [Dennis] noted that the fences were still quite high and on the stiff side.

“The racecourse has given assurances that they will be looked at again and the inspector will visit the course ahead of their next fixture to ensure that the fences are in the optimum condition before being raced over again.”

Might Bite Shows Lack of Appetite

The Betfair Chase was won by Bristol De Mai, who backed up his 2017 triumph in this renewal with a four-length victory over Native River.

The disappointment of the day was Might Bite, the even money favourite who was expected to add yet another Group 1 victory to his collection.

It was not to be, with the nine-year-old finishing uncharacteristically fifth of five in the field.

And trainer Nicky Henderson, while not blaming Haydock officials for the demise of his entry, did note the unusual dimensions of the fences in his post-race summary.

“They have built us some big fences here today, and he nudged one early on and it’s not the first one of mine that has been caught out today [River Wylde fell earlier on].

“He was using up a bit too much petrol jumping up in the air. He looked as if he was coming into the race at one stage, but he was beaten too soon. He wasn’t jumping like usual – normally he’s just deadly – but it wasn’t just that.

“Maybe he just wasn’t as straight as we thought, and it’s as simple as that. Instead of blaming fences maybe you’ve got to blame the trainer.”