THE Betfair Chase is the highlight at Haydock this afternoon, but the Fixed Brush Hurdle a little earlier is an excellent supporting act, in which the Scottish-trained Saphir River is expected to run well by trainer Lucinda Russell.
The six-year-old hinted at his ability in three starts for Michael Scudamore last season and won a beginners' chase at Uttoxeter on his debut for new connections. Russell said: "He's better on soft and heavy ground. He's an amazing horse, you hardly see him move on it. Any rain doesn't really worry us.
"He's got good form. He was second, just beaten in the French Champion Hurdle, on very heavy ground so if he can repeat that form he could go very close. We had to do something with him before this race so we thought chasing was a good idea. He jumped well and we were quite pleased with him so, hopefully, he will be okay."
Loading article content
Luke Dance was very upbeat about the chance of his charge, American Spin, who won a handicap over this course and distance in May. The trainer said: "I can't have the horse in any better form. The only thing is it's a big ask carrying that sort of weight but I'm expecting a big run and we'll just keep our fingers crossed.
"It's going to be testing but the only time he's run on that kind of ground before was at Fontwell and he won by 21 lengths pulling up."
Finally, connections of Grand National runner-up Sunnyhillboy are looking forward to seeing him return to the racecourse.
Jonjo O'Neill's nine-year-old suffered an injury when just beaten at Aintree by Neptune Collonges, but Frank Berry, racing manager for owner JP McManus, says the gelding in good shape ahead of his comeback.
"He's back in good form and, hopefully, he will run a nice race," said Berry. "He recovered quite well from his problems after the National. It took a bit of time, but he's been fine since.
"Touch wood, he's moving great and we're looking forward to seeing him out and running again. He started off in this race last year and you'd love to think he would go down that road again [to the Grand National].
"It's a long road, but Jonjo is happy with him so here's hoping."
*Long Run, pictured, is the favourite for today's highlight, the Betfair Chase at Haydock, writes White and Gold.
Although the ground is very soft, owner Robert Waley-Cohen is unfazed as his charge prepares to make his seasonal debut. He said: "The ground is what we have anticipated and I think we just have to press on and hope they handle it. It's going to be fresh ground and it's going to be the same for us all."
"Long Run is a bit more forward than he was going into the race last year and he is more mature. He's running against good horses here and they don't just give Grade 1s away, but we're looking forward to it."