Charlie Hall Chase from Wetherby – October 31st
This Saturday we get the first major clues of the new National Hunt season as the Charlie Hall Chase takes place at Wetherby. And this year is a cracking renewal of the Grade 2 contest, run over 3m 1f. The field is packed with quality from top to bottom, and the usual mix of proven performers meet others on the upgrade. We also have fascinating questions over the likes of Dynaste – arguably the class horse of the race – but one who comes here with potentially the most to prove. Let’s take a look at some of the main contenders…
DYNASTE. RATING: 166. Best odds: 9/2 (Bet365, BetVictor, Betway, Betfred)
Holds the class angle of the race and the imposing grey will forever be remembered for capturing the 2014 Ryanair Chase. Problem is, David Pipe’s stable star has failed to hit the heights since then and big questions surround how much of that ability he retains. His comeback run at Auteuil in a Grade 3 earlier this month left a lot to be desired (trailing home ninth) although there is no doubt the trip was far shorter than he’d have liked. Still, so many questions surround him at present that he is far too short in the betting. A possible winner? Yes. The likely one? Not for me.
CUE CARD. RATING: 160. Best odds: 7/2 (various)
I’m a big fan of this horse – and trainer Colin Tizzard has always been his biggest advocate. First off, the negative. He hasn’t won for almost two years when taking the Betfair Chase at Haydock in 2013. Back then he peaked at a rating of 174 and was a fearsome competitor. The ensuing period has seen him become something of a bridesmaid with a series of hugely creditable runs, but he always seems to find one too good. On the positive side, he’s now down to 160 and Tizzard is making his usual bullish noises about the form of his inmate. A lot has to be taken on trust for this seasonal reappearance but he will run his race for sure.
BALLYNAGOUR. RATING: 163. Best odds: 7/1 (Betway)
Deemed the second string of David Pipe’s team but will quite probably shine brightest come showtime. Last time we saw him he was in France finishing fifth behind stablemate Un Temps Pour Tout in the French Champion Hurdle in June. That form is hardly shabby and he is a Cheltenham Festival winner in his own right (the 2014 Byrne Group Plate). But perhaps what we should be taking note of was his toe to toe battle with Silviniaco Conti at Aintree in April. He went down by a head that day – and you have to think a reproduction of that effort could suffice here. An interesting runner.
MANY CLOUDS. RATING: 167. Best odds: 13/2 (Coral)
The reigning Grand National champion and sure to carry plenty of support at 13/2. He enjoyed the season of dreams last year and will turn up here a confident horse. It’s hard to see him not being involved and Oliver Sherwood will have him tuned up for a good crack first time up. I do get the feeling, though, that he can’t help but improve for whatever he does here and he can only keep going to the well so often. Whatever the case, a magnificent horse for connections and will give his running off 167 every day of the week. But this is a Charlie Hall that will take a lot of winning this year.
MENORAH. RATING: 167. Best odds: 13/2 (Bet365, SkyBet, BetVictor)
The defending champ representing the red hot Phillip Hobbs team. With Richard Johnson in the plate, there are a lot of pieces in the jigsaw fitting together. Writing in his blog this week, Johnson described the horse in “really good order” and I do think that’s worth taking note of. He knows what it takes to win this race and did it first time out last year before having to look at the back of Silviniaco Conti for most of the season. Undoubtedly a big ask to make it two in a row and a challenge that will probably prove just out of his reach, but another one who will give his running at a decent price.
IRISH CAVALIER. RATING: 156. Best odds: 9/1 (Betfred, Coral)
The real dark horse of the race for me. A six-year-old with a rapidly improving profile and, crucially, he comes here race fit having won earlier this month and has clearly been targeted at the race. It wasn’t until this year’s Festival that he properly announced himself with victory in the Chaps’ Novice Handicap Chase and this year he will be worth following in a big way. As I said, earlier this month he returned in style with victory at Newton Abbot and that will have sharpened him up very nicely for the job in hand. I see him overpriced at 9/1 and he could well sneak in the back door past some of the more fancied runners.
Verdict: My money would have been with Irish Cavalier until he was scratched 24 hours before race time, so that leaves me turning to BALLYNAGOUR. As I said, he may be deemed David Pipe’s second string but boasts some rock solid form and at the prices could provide a decent bit of value in what is a wide open renewal.
Stake: 0.5pts each way @ 9/1 (Betfred, Coral)