CHAMPAGNE Mystery is disputing favouritism with Numitor in the veterans’ chase finale at Haydock this afternoon, but you can argue that he should be clear at the top of the market on his own.

Tom George’s horse put up a really good performance to finish third behind Golden Son in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Kempton last time, when he didn’t have a great run through the race.

Held up off a sedate pace, he got in a little tight to the third last fence, which checked his momentum just as he needed to make ground towards the leaders into a quickening pace.

Still a detached last of the five runners on the run to the second last, he wasn’t overly fluent at that obstacle either as they quickened in front.

He was much better at the last, he landed with momentum and he kept going forward. It never looked like he was going to get to Golden Son, but he stayed on best of all to take third place, just two lengths behind the winner, closest at the finish.

Golden Son was beaten next time at Sandown, but runner-up Heltenham has enhanced the form of that race since, winning the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury next time and winning another handicap chase back at Newbury last time off a 6lb higher mark. He is now rated 12lb higher than he was at Kempton.

Champagne Mystery gets to compete today off a mark of 127, 1lb lower than his Kempton mark, and that gives him a real chance. A winner over hurdles and over fences for Trevor Hemmings when he was with Nicky Henderson, he has been racing in France for the last two and a half seasons, but he returned to Britain at Cheltenham’s trials meeting in January, and he stepped forward from that run at Kempton last time.

Good performance

Rated 144 at his peak, he put up a good performance at Haydock as a novice on his only run to date at the track, to finish second to Dashel Drasher, subsequent Ascot Chase winner. He goes well on flat tracks, and he should appreciate the return to Haydock and the move into veterans’ company.

Numitor is an obvious danger. Heather Main’s horse ran well for a long way at Exeter last time on his first run since he was pulled up in last year’s Topham Chase at Aintree.

He is down to a mark of 129 now, 13lb lower than his peak, and that is a dangerous mark. Riders Onthe Storm is also on an attractive looking mark, he ran well at Doncaster last time on his first run back after a wind operation. It’s a competitive race, but Champagne Mystery just might prove to be too strong.

Handicap hurdle

The two-mile handicap hurdle earlier on the day is also a competitive contest. Brentford Hope is a worthy favourite.

Rated 107 at his peak on the flat when he was owned by Sean and Bernardine Mulryan and trained by Richard Hughes, he finished third behind Hansard in Newbury’s Gerry Feilden Hurdle earlier this season, and he was impressive in winning at Newcastle last time. But he is up 5lb in the handicap for that win, and he is short.

Ballygeary could represent some value against the favourite. Donald McCain’s horse is a talented individual who rattled off a hat-trick of wins around this time last year.

He hasn’t gone forward this season as you would have expected, but he has been running well in good company, and he retains potential for more.

He travelled like a likely winner down to the second last flight in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh in early February before weakening, and he ran better than the bare form of the run suggests in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso last time.

Again, he travelled well into his race on the inside. He was short of room at the second last flight and had to be switched a couple of times on the run to the last before just keeping on up the run-in.

He finished five lengths behind Skycutter, whom he had beaten in a two-horse race at Bangor back in December.

He wore cheekpieces for the first time that day, he wears them again today. He should appreciate the slight drop in grade, and the move to a flatter track. He remains a horse who is potentially well-handicapped on a mark of 118.


Ballygeary, 2.05 Haydock,

8/1 (generally), 1 point win

Champagne Mystery, 3.15 Haydock, 7/2 (generally), 1 point win