Bristol blitzes smart field to grab Haydock glory
Bristol De Mai demolished his rivals in an attritional, old-style running of the Peter Marsh Chase with a performance that lit up the sepia gloom of Haydock and put him into the picture for championship honours.
On a day that belonged to his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who also sent out stable favourite The New One to win an 18th race earlier on the card, it was Bristol De Mai who ended the day as the yard's big hope.
The six-year-old has not been so prolific as The New One and came in off the back of four straight second-placed finishes. His performance here was swaggering, marked by fluent jumping and smooth travelling, and his 22-length success, over his most recent conqueror Otago Trail to boot, was an exorcism as much as a revelation.
Turning for home only a handful still stood a meaningful chance. It was here that Alary's race ended abruptly, through nothing other than not being able to hack the pace, and his place as Gold Cup springer slipping away with it.
The position he left was to be filled within a couple of minutes. Bristol De Mai went on with Vintage Clouds and Otago Trail and he had both in trouble before the former fell three out and Venetia Williams' contender crashed through the second from home.
Those incidents amplified the winning margin, but to score so convincingly from a mark of 154, just 1lb lower than Native River had been in the Hennessy and Welsh National, still marks Bristol De Mai as a threat at any level.
"His jumping was superb all the way round, it was a joy to watch," said Twiston-Davies. "He was a bit buzzy in his early days but now you can settle him anywhere in a race."
Jockey Daryl Jacob added: "He attacks his fences and puts other horses in danger. He's not quite been seen at his best this year but he's reminded us all of his talent and that was the Bristol De Mai of old."
Bristol De Mai was slashed for the Gold Cup, Betfair going from 66s to 16s at a stroke, but after the dust had settled he could still be backed at 25-1 to upset Thistlecrack.
He could yet run in the Ryanair, although as ever Twiston-Davies sounded as though he would be up for the bigger fight, saying: "I'm leaning towards the Gold Cup – whether it's impossible to win with all the other horses and whether we're in the class of Thistlecrack, we'll see."
Runner-up Otago Trail, who had got the better of a more even battle with Bristol De Mai in the Rehearsal Chase in November, held off Bishops Road for second. Only six of 14 starters finished.
Williams said: "I'm delighted with the performance. I know we finished in front of Bristol De Mai last time but the winner is essentially a very good horse."
You might have been forgiven for forgetting that much in the last ten months, but it will not slip the mind so easily again after this performance.