This Saturday is the day when it feels like the jumps season is back properly, and some of the biggest stars of the sport will be making their seasonal reappearances at Down Royal and Wetherby. We will be concentrating on the Charlie Hall Chase at the latter venue, and it looks to be a very open race with a number of the contenders holding viable chances.
Last year’s winner Menorah is back to defend his crown but he won’t have it easy with a host of talented horses in opposition. Favourites have a pretty poor record with only three obliging since 2005, though the biggest price in that period was Menorah last year at 8/1, which suggests it pays to concentrate on the horses near the head of the market.
MANY CLOUDS SHERWOOD/ASPELL
This 167 rated 8yo son of Cloudings needs no introduction after a heroic victory off a big weight in the Grand National at Aintree back in April. It was a fantastic performance, and his jumping on the day was a joy to behold. He won four of his five starts last year, including the Hennessey, and his only defeat came at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup, where he finished a respectable sixth.
He won on his reappearance last year en route to the Hennessey, so his ability to run well fresh is not in question. The big worry has to be the fact that he has to concede weight to some very useful rivals, and Menorah last year was the first horse since Our Vic back in 2006 to carry 11-10 to victory. Another worry would be whether his monumental effort in the Grand National has left it’s mark. He is currently priced up at 6/1 and he could well come out and win. However there are too many doubts for my liking, and at his likely price he is best watched.
This 167 rated 10yo son of classy sire King’s Theatre is back to defend the crown he won last year. It was a magnificent effort by Menorah that day, and it was his second time to win on his seasonal reappearance. However, he has unseated, been pulled up and run poorly on his other comeback runs, so it is difficult to predict which Menorah will show up on the day.
Consistency hasn’t been a strong suit for Menorah in recent times, but there is reason to believe Hobbs will have him spot on for today’s race. He isn’t getting any younger, (Menorah not Mr. Hobbs!) and it seems that Grade 1 level is beyond him these days (no win at that level since 2012). This Grade 2 prize is an obvious target. The ground is ideal, his yard has been amongst the winners, and he has won his only previous start over course and distance. At his current odds of 13/2 he is perhaps a bit skinny, given his consistency issues, but if he drifts to 8/1 or bigger he is worthy of a little each way support.
SAM WINNER NICHOLLS/BOWEN
This 160 rated 8yo son of Okawango has often threatened at this level but he has yet to deliver over fences, and his biggest wins have come in Listed and Grade 3 handicaps. His performance at Cheltenham last season when giving The Druids Nephew 6lbs and a beating was a super run, and he also ran a cracker behind Road To Riches at Leopardstown. However, he was pulled up on his final two runs, and he has a tendency to throw in the odd stinker.
He has run well first time back on a number of occasions during his career, and the decent ground will be no bother to him. However, a lot of Paul Nicholls’ horses have been needing their first run back, so that is a bit of a worry. This looks a winnable race though, and if Sam Winner is ever going to score at this level today could be the day. He has an excellent jockey on board in young Bowen, and at odds of 14/1 he is capable if on a going day.
162 rated 8yo son of Gold Well and he ran some cracking races in defeat last year at Grade 1 level. Was a good 4th in the Gold Cup behind Coneygree and again ran well in 3rd behind Silvinaco Conti at Aintree on his final run. He deserves his place in this field, and he gets a handy 4lbs from Many Clouds, Menorah and Sam Winner. His best piece of form was at Aintree back in 2014 when he beat Don Cossack by 10L in the Grade 1 Mildmay Chase.
That brings him right into the picture on the figures, but the worry has to be that it has usually taken him a couple of runs to reach peak fitness. His form figures on his comeback runs are 332, including in 2013 when he was well beaten by Many Clouds off level weights over 20f. A repeat of his Aintree efforts would put him right in the picture here, and a decent surface suits. 6/1 looks a fair price and he has definite each way claims.
9yo 163 rated son of Shantou who is a very talented horse on his day. He has a propensity to mix the sublime with the ridiculous though, and is always a risky proposition. I remember getting word for him the day he made his English debut in a handicap off 123 and he made an absolute mockery of that mark. Had his best day yet at Cheltenham in 2014 when romping home in the Byrne Plate, and pushed Silvinaco Conti all the way in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree in April.
He won a Grade 2 at Auteil back in May, so he is a proven winner at this level. His very best runs have come when fresh, so his lay-off is not a worry, and could in fact be seen as a positive. He only carries 11st so he is getting 10lbs from the top three and 6lbs from Holywell. 6/1 looks a big price considering his record when fresh and he is a serious contender.
CUE CARD TIZZARD/BRENNAN
9yo son of King’s Theatre that is now rated 160 over fences having been rated as high as 172 at his peak. He hasn’t won a race since winning at Haydock back in 2013, though he has been highly tried with all but one of his runs since coming at the highest level.
He struggled to land a blow in some hot contests last season, and the jury is still out on whether he has the stamina for a truly run 3m+ race. He sometimes finds it hard to settle early on and that can cost him in the closing stages. He hasn’t turned into the horse that many people expected him to, and unless the break has worked miracles it is hard to see him coming out on top here, even in receipt of weight from his rivals. Looks too skinny for me at 7/2 and best watched.
Another enigmatic chaser from the David Pipe yard, and he had a pipe opener in France three weeks ago over an inadequate 19.5f trip. That was his first run back since getting to within 2L of Many Clouds at Cheltenham back in January, and he is a massive 10lbs better off with that rival here. He missed all the festivals last year with a hind leg injury, and this race will show if he still retains the same ability he had before his injury setback.
That run in France wasn’t devoid of promise, and he stayed on quite nicely in the closing stages, albeit well behind the winner. He should come on leaps and bounds for that run, and this 166 rated 9yo son of Martaline is the best treated horse in the race at the weights. If he is as good as he was before his injury he should be going close here at odds of 4/1.
As the prices would suggest this is as open a Charlie Hall as there has been for many years. Not one of the field can be ruled out with maximum confidence, and a solid case can be made for all. Dynaste is the best treated horse in the race, and a repeat of his run behind Many Clouds earlier this year would put him right in the picture. Menorah won’t give up his crown without a fight, and if Holywell is fit he is a threat to all.
However, the one I like is Ballynagour, who is an absolutely brilliant horse on his day. He is getting weight from his rivals, he is best when fresh, and at odds of 6/1 he represents a bit of value too. He is the selection for what should be an exciting renewal of the Charlie Hall Chase.
STEVOS’ SELECTION: BALLYNAGOUR 6/1