Racing: Silviniaco Conti leading the pack

Return Spring, right, ridden by Richard Johnson wins the Steeple Chase at Exeter. Picture: Getty
Return Spring, right, ridden by Richard Johnson wins the Steeple Chase at Exeter. Picture: Getty
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Silviniaco Conti was thrust towards the forefront of the betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after claiming a second victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Winner of the Grade One prize in 2012, he was third to Cue Card 12 months ago on his first outing of the season.

To make sure he had the eight-year-old cherry-ripe for the first Grade One chase in England this term, Paul ­Nicholls ran his charge in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and some were disappointed he could only finish fifth behind Menorah.

Charlie Hall winner Menorah, for the bang-in-form combination of Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson, gave ­Silviniaco Conti most to think about on Merseyside and appeared to be travelling best at the third-last. But when stamina came into play, Noel ­Fehily guided Silviniaco Conti (100-30) to a two-length win, with last year’s runner-up Dynaste third.

The disappointment of the race was the 3-1 favourite Cue Card, who tried to put the pace to the race but he looked flat in the home straight and could only finish fourth. The first four home seem likely to lock horns again at Kempton in the William Hill King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

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Nicholls, who was claiming his sixth win in the race, said: “The cheekpieces sharpened him up completely. When he’s right, he’s probably the best [staying chaser in the country]. That [King George] is where he’ll go next.”

The New One earlier cemented his position as a strong Champion Hurdle contender with a crisp performance in the inaugural Betfair Price Rush Hurdle.

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “Everything went right and now the next stop it’s Cheltenham [for the International]. He’ll be entered for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, too.”

Lizzie Kelly gave Aubusson a perfect ride to win the Betfair “This Is Play” “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle.

The 21-year-old conditional refused to panic when challengers were queuing up behind her in the home straight as the giant five-year-old pulled out more after the second-last to win.Faugheen was the star of the show in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot. Blue Fashion at least attempted to make a race of it, but a swift jump at the last from the 1-4 favourite confirmed the inevitable.

The ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite won by a carefree three and three-quarters of a length to give Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins back-to-back victories in the Grade Two after Annie Power had struck 12 months ago.

At Kempton today, Polly Peachum can live up to her tall reputation by claiming Listed honours. Nicky Henderson’s charge is widely regarded as the best hurdling mare trained in this country and she puts those credentials on the line in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.

The mare came on in leaps and bounds last term, being hiked 18lb for a wide-margin Warwick win before going on to land a Cheltenham Listed back in April. That run inspired Henderson to chance Polly Peachum in the Select Hurdle at Sandown and the decision almost paid off as she was beaten just a short head by Southfield Theatre.

Those races saw her start the season on a mark of 147 and she looked to be up against it saddled with top weight in a mares’ handicap at Wincanton. Yet despite conceding upwards of 12lb to each rival, she breezed to a three-length success over Blue Buttons and earned a further 8lb rise, putting her on 155.

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