In much the same way that daffodils signify the arrival of spring, The Charlie Hall Chase reassures us that top class jumps racing is back for another great season. It is the first time in the season that we get the opportunity to see some of the top staying chasers in action and in recent seasons it has been a real conundrum to solve, throwing up some surprising results including victories for Weird Al (This is not a misprint), Harry Topper and Menorah to name but a few. Gone are the days when we could default to Ollie Magern each-way; primed and ready for the race of his season. A much deeper consideration is needed at this time of year as to who is likely to be fit enough to do themselves justice as well as having enough class to win the race. Saturday’s renewal is as strong as I can remember in recent years provided all of the runners take their chance. In order to find the winner this year we will have to delve into the form, make some assumptions, connect the dots and have a lot too. It might be likened to attending a fireworks display at your wacky uncle’s house. You know he’s spent a lot of money and bought the best fireworks, but whether he can get any of them to work safely on the night is another problem entirely. On that totally unrelated point let’s start taking a look at the runners and their chances. Grand National hero Many Clouds has won on his seasonal debut the last 2 seasons, albeit in small field contests which you would have expected him to win knowing what we know now. His main early season target will be the Hennessy in four weeks’ time, but I don’t see him turning up here just to make up the numbers. However, he carries top weight and that could compromise his chances significantly against some high class opponents on ground currently better than ideal. I expect him to run a solid race without winning. Menorah’s win in the race last season was a fantastic effort, particularly in carrying top weight. He is such a difficult horse to place as he is just as likely to run a shocker as he is to win, but he is almost certain to be in great shape for defence of his title and the depth of quality in the race could play to his strengths as a horse that likes to be held up to pounce late. With many of his rivals likely to be short of fitness the race may well fall apart a bit in the closing stages, leaving him to pounce and land the spoils again. Given the intended runners, they will almost certainly go a good gallop and stamina, fitness and hold up tactics may well be the order of the day. For this reason Menorah looks a rock solid each way bet. The Paul Nicholls trained Sam Winner also looks to have a strong chance. His early season form has been fantastic in recent seasons and he looked a reformed horse when winning at Cheltenham and Aintree before Christmas last season and then only just being collared in the Lexus Chase on Boxing Day. It would be hard for me to back him with the scars still showing from the Pertemps Final in 2013 when Paul Nicholls described his handicap mark of 140 as a ‘gift from god’, but I certainly think he could go well at a big price. Holywell is one that I would be firmly against on Saturday. Although he brings high class form to the table, he is a confirmed spring horse and often shows very little in the early part of the season. He was beaten a long way by Many Clouds on his seasonal reappearance last year and I would be inclined to lay him for a place given the strength of the opposition and the time of year. Likewise Irish Cavalier is not my idea of the winner. Although I think he is open to a lot of improvement this season having won a decent handicap chase at the festival last year, he was beaten 3 times subsequently before narrowly scoring in an intermediate chase at Newton Abbot. I don’t have the statistics to hand but there can’t be many horses that have won at Newton Abbot and then a graded chase on their next start. He wouldn’t have enough proven class for me to take seriously in a race like this and his price in the market ahead of Rocky Creek and Sam Winner is truly mystifying. Rocky Creek is a horse that I love. His win at Kempton last season was an astounding display of jumping. He was thoroughly disappointing in his subsequent performances at Aintree and Sandown but I’m inclined to put a line through those and given him another chance. He ran a solid race on seasonal debut at Down Royal last season when chasing home Road to Riches with some useful yardsticks in behind. I see him running a big race this weekend at a nice price. We have seen enough of Alderbrook Lad and The Romford Pele to be confident that they are below top class and barring any disasters in the race I can’t see either of them threatening the judge. Ballynagour is another one that I would be firmly against. He has been pulled up on his seasonal reappearance the last two seasons. He has just two chase wins to his name and has never won over 3 miles and is another one that looks way too short in the betting in a market which seems to have accommodated for possible improvement rather than reflecting the bare formbook. Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card has been a phenomenal horse in the past, particularly a couple of seasons ago when he was at his peak and won the Ascot Chase and the Ryanair. However, he has been firmly on the downgrade in recent times. If I had a pound for every time I had read an article quoting that Colin Tizzard believes Cue Card is back to his best I would be a very wealthy man indeed. In fact, several days ago he was quoted as saying “We worked four horses around Wincanton, including a couple of 130-rated horses, and he was far, far superior to them”. That would be a taking piece of insight if Cue Card were running in a 0-140 handicap chase. However, he has a lot more on his plate today and has had some physical problems to overcome in recent times too. I just can’t see him bouncing back to his best on his seasonal re-appearance, as much as I would love to see it. Finally, David Pipe’s Dynaste is the leading player in this year’s renewal for me. He hasn’t won since landing the Ryanair Chase in 2014 but had his problems at the business end of last season. He was given a pipe opener (no pun intended) over hurdles at Auteuil earlier this month and ran creditably over an inadequate trip. That will have put him spot on for the Charlie Hall and having run well in the Betfair Chase the last two seasons when fresh, he could well go one better today. He receives as much as 10lb from some of the leading players and he must be bang there at the finish. The Pipe team won the race in 2006 with Our Vic and Dynaste can take advantage of his fitness and race conditions to land the big prize this weekend. Why not boost your winnings with a FREE BET of up to £200 from one of our partner bookmakers? Advised bets 2pts WIN DYNASTE @ 9/2 (General) 1pt WIN MENORAH @ 13/2 (Bet365, SkyBet) 0.5pts E/W ROCKY CREEK @ 12/1 (General)
Charlie Hall Day is always a great sign that the Jump Season is starting to get into full flow. This season’s renewal is shaping up to be a real cracker! Not sure I can remember a better overall card at Wetherby. Some real stars will on display with former Gold Cup winner Long Run; last season’s Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup winner Unioniste, The Jewson winner Benefficient, the evergreen Tidal Bay although it’s a shame that last season’s Albert Bartlett winner At Fishers Cross is an overnight non-runner. Let’s start with the Charlie Hall Chase; a race which has been won by some true stars of the staying chase division; Wayward Lad, Burrough Hill Lad, One Man, See More Business to name a few. The market will almost certainly revolve around 1 horse; Long Run. He makes his seasonal reappearance and will be certain to attract a lot of money. Long Run has not actually won on his reappearance since he arrived in the United Kingdom. With age I think Long Run will take more runs to get him race fit and would make very little appeal to me on Saturday. I also think that Wetherby being a very stern test of a horses jumping ability, could catch him out. Despite him not having a fall next to his name in the UK, he has been known to throw in the occasional lazy jump. With this tendency and the potential for him needing this quite badly, he wouldn’t be on my agenda on Saturday. Long Run is without doubt the class act of the field but at a likely short price he wouldn’t be my idea of a bet at around 11/8 as there are far to many doubts for this to be considered a bet for me. Unioniste for Paul Nicholls would appear to have quite strong claims. His best performance to date was his victory in at Cheltenham back in December. This was off a feather weight and in brutally soft conditions. I do have a question mark in my mind whether this is a creature that does really appreciate cut in the ground, as he is by Dom Alco whose offspring generally love to get their toe in. His 4th in the RSA Chase would not be good enough to challenge even an 80% fit Long Run. However, the positives would certainly be that as a 5 year old there certainly could be improvement left in him. I think this is essential for him to have a chance though. If the forecasted rain does not arrive, I would be very tempted to place lay him. He currently around 4/1 in the win market and this represents very little value. A further concern would be that you would have needed an exceptionally wide TV screen to have seen any of Paul Nicholls’ finish last week at Chepstow. I was there and his runners did not appear to be that unfit but they all ran horrendously below form which certainly would leave a doubt in my mind. Cape Tribulation is very likely to go off third in the betting for this. He is actually a very likeable horse, and won the prestige’s Rowland Merick prize here on Boxing Day last year before being found out in slightly higher company. His record first time up in the last few season’s has been a touch poor. Often benefitting sufficiently for the first run of the season, he was comprehensively beaten on this card last season in the West Yorkshire hurdle. If at his best I think he would have a very good chance of beating a 80% fit Long Run. However, with him also being very likely to improve a bundle for this race, I think at the prices around 6/1 or 7/1 he should be avoided. The conditions of the race would actually be perfect for him, but I really cannot consider him a bet first time up this season. Benefficient, last season’s Jewson and Irish Arkle winner will be popular with many a punter. Especially with AP McCoy in search of winners to make the historic 4,000 mark. All of last season’s novices pose a huge question of actually how good were they? I think they were a very under par bunch, with the exception of Simonsig who I think just underperformed in the Arkle at Cheltenham. Benefficient is a quite a consistent horse and is very likely to run his race. That fact that Tony Martin has opted to send him over to the UK when he had two appropriate races to go for at Down Royal suggest he will be fit and ready to play. I would have question marks as to whether he will appreciate a very stiff 3 mile and 1 furlong round Wetherby. He does generally like to lead in his races, so he could well be able to dictate from the front and get into a nice jumping rhythm. From his Jewson victory, Third Intention has gone on to beat a progressive novice in a two runner race at Cheltenham’s October meeting. Of the 3 Novice races at the Cheltenham Festival last season, the Jewson is probably the most solid. There was effectively no strength in depth at all in the Arkle and the RSA Chase desperately lacked class. He would by no means be my idea of the best horse in the race, and I certainly wouldn’t consider him a definite stayer over 3 miles, but with the race fitness being more likely assured with him, at around 8/1 I could certainly see an argument for backing him. Harry Topper did look rather exciting when winning at Newbury and Exeter last season. At Newbury, he came from nowhere to win at but he may have been slightly flattered that day, with Benefficient racing very early in the straight. Since that victory he has had an indifferent time of things, falling and unseating. On his comeback from a 193 day layoff there are far too many unknowns. He could well be good enough to win, but he wouldn’t be a good bet. So we come to my idea of a bet in the race; Wayward Prince. He ran well above his form in this race last season and always seems to run best this side of Christmas. I think the conditions will be absolutely perfect for him, although I fully appreciate he needs to find plenty on the figures but I think this will be his Gold Cup. He should be piping fit for this after his run over hurdles and could well catch some of the principles by surprise. He is around the 40/1 mark and I can really see an argument for him running a big race tomorrow. The West Yorkshire Hurdle was going to be great opportunity to see last season’s impressive novice At Fishers Cross. Unfortunately, he’s been declared a non-runner after suffering a small injury. Tidal Bay now has Medinas and Trustan Times to beat. If ever there was a horse to advertise a trainers talent, Tidal Bay could not pay Paul Nicholls more of a compliment. He ran out a decent winner of this race last season. Unfortunately he picked up a minor injury last season and missed Cheltenham. If Tidal Bay is anywhere fit, he will take a bit of beating in this but Medinas progressed nicely last season and Alan King is in fine form at the moment. With this in mind I think Medinas is a good bet to beat the likely short priced favourite in this. My bet of the day comes in the Mares Hurdle race; L’Unique. She won the grade 1 Juvenile hurdle at Aintree in April and due to this she carries a penalty. However, I think she looked highly progressive last season. She is a great jumper of her hurdles, and I think the form of her win at Aintree is head and shoulders above the others. She beat Cockney Sparrow in December last season by 12 lengths. Obviously Cockney Sparrow has now improved significantly and with the weight pull she will get a lot closer but L’Unique will have a bit too much for Cockney Sparrow. Une Artiste won this race last season but she didn’t progressive after her win at Sandown. If back to the form that saw her win this race last season she will be very close in this heat.