The Charlie Hall Chase has attracted a seven-strong field of classy staying chasers to do battle over three miles at Wetherby (3.05pm Saturday on Channel 4). This is an intriguing renewal as the two market leaders are on recovery missions.
Cue Card the 7/2 favourite is one of three runners unencumbered by a penalty. Colin Tizzard’s (pictured) nine-year-old flag bearer is reportedly in good form – but the Tizzards are invariably bullish about his chances. The reality is that he has had breathing problems and a stress fracture to overcome. Yes, he has a host of Grade 1 victories to his name but the most recent of them was two years ago. His rating has dropped from 174 to 160.
We last saw Cue Card in the Grade 1 Punchestown Gold Cup in April, sporting cheekpieces and wearing a tongue tie for the first time. He finished fourth, beaten 15 lengths by Gordon Elliot’s rising star, Don Cossack.
We have been told that Cue Card comfortably outpaced some useful stablemates at a recent Wincanton workout but that is no guarantee that he is back to his best. Horses from this stable often come on for a run in less difficult circumstances – and three miles is generally accepted as the limit of Cue Card’s stamina. He would be a very popular winner but is best watched here.
David Pipe’s Dynaste is the 4/1 second favourite. He hasn’t won since the 2014 Cheltenham Festival. In his next three runs at the highest level he got beaten each time by Silviniaco Conti. His best effort was arguably in April last year when he was beaten a length and a half (by Silviniaco Conti) in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree.
Last season Dynaste acquired a tongue tie and cheekpieces but didn’t finish within four lengths of Silviniaco Conti. That form may be deceptive though – Silviniaco Conti had improved significantly after receiving treatment for stomach ulcers. The tongue tie suggests that Dynaste has had breathing problems too. He also suffered a hind leg strain at Cheltenham when finishing third, one and a half lengths behind Many Clouds, in the Grade 2 BetBright Cup Chase in January. It was said to be nothing serious but the injury ended his season.
Dynaste is now rated 6lb higher than Cue Card and has had the benefit of a spin round over hurdles at Auteuil earlier this month – without headgear or a tongue tie. He was fancied to run well, starting as the 9/2 second favourite but was beaten nearly 10 lengths, finishing ninth. It was over an inadequate distance of two miles three furlongs but must have felt like further in the testing conditions. Pipe is confident that he will come on for the run. He will need to. The cheekpieces are back on here.
Pipe saddles another useful nine-year-old, Ballynagour (6/1). Rated 3lb lower than his stablemate, Ballynagour was beaten a head by Silviniaco Conti in the Betfred Bowl this year. Holywell finished two lengths behind him in third. In his next run he fell when going well in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
He was switched to lower obstacles in May and won a Grade 2 hurdle over two miles five furlongs at Auteuil, beating Willie Mullins’ Val De Ferbet five lengths. His season concluded with a run in a Grade 1 hurdle over three miles one furlong at the same venue in June. Ballynagour didn’t quite get home over the longer trip in going described as very soft. He was beaten 16 lengths into fifth but had some very decent horses behind him including Hurricane Fly.
Unlike the two market leaders Ballynagour’s rating is at a lifetime high rather than descending. It would not be a surprise to see him get the better of his stablemate. The very capable Noel Fehily takes the ride.
Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell (6/1) is a talented, consistent performer who beat Don Cossack ten lengths in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase in April last year. We haven’t seen him since he finished behind Ballynagour off level weights in the Betfred Bowl. He is now rated 1lb lower than him and has to carry a 6lb penalty. The penalty and his poor record first time out make it difficult to follow him with any confidence.
In contrast Oliver Sherwood’s Grand National and Hennessy winner, Many Clouds (6/1), has scored first time out (beating Holywell both times) in the past two seasons. Both runs were on softer ground than he is likely to encounter here. He was only beaten once in his five starts last season, when he inexplicably failed to fire in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He consequently has to carry a 10lb penalty but he is a strong, well-made horse and proved in the National that weight does not stop him.
Many Clouds seems to like Wetherby too. He won his bumper and a novice chase here. If the going is verging on soft he has to have an excellent chance.
The oldest horse in the line up is the ten-year-old Menorah (6/1). He sprung a surprise when he won this race on his seasonal debut last year, beating Jonjo O’Neill’s Taquin Du Seuil four lengths on good ground. The 10lb penalty didn’t seem to inconvenience him – he’s another robustly built type – and shouldn’t stop him here. He went on to finish two lengths behind Silviniaco Conti in the Grade 1 Lancashire Chase at Haydock in late November, beating Dynaste eight lengths and Cue Card ten lengths. Two very disappointing efforts in Grade 1s followed but he ended his season with a victory in a listed race at Sandown, beating Paul Nicholls’ Al Ferof.
Trainer Philip Hobbs had his horses in outstanding order at the start of last season and has made a pretty good start to this one. Menorah is a class act (sharing a rating of 167 with Many Clouds) and has to be respected but no horse of his age has won since 2004.
Paul Nicholls’ eight year old Sam Winner (16/1) completes the line up. He pulled up in his last two starts in the Scottish National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Two non completions do little to inspire confidence but this is Sam Winner. He had enough by the 2013 Scottish National too but returned refreshed from his summer break and won his first two starts.
He opened his account by winning a three mile three furlong handicap chase at Cheltenham in November, beating the useful The Druids Nephew a length and a half when giving him 6lb. In his next run he won a listed race from the front at Aintree in December. In the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December he was beaten three and a half lengths by Road To Riches, finishing third. Sam Winner shares a rating of 160 with Cue Card and is not the forlorn hope that his odds suggest.
He seems to be best when fresh and Nicholls has a 33% strike rate with his chasers this season although he claims that his horses are generally not ready until early November. In Sam Twiston-Davies’ absence (he partners Rocky Creek at Down Royal) Sean Bowen takes the ride. Bowen has the strength and perseverance required for this tricky character.
Charlie Hall Chase Preview’s Betting Tips Conclusion
This is a tricky race to call. Only Dynaste has had a run this season and his performance did little to make him appealing at 4/1. His stablemate Ballynagour (6/1) looks a more interesting prospect but the Pipe yard is yet to hit top gear. Many Clouds (6/1) has an impressive record first time out but the ground may not be soft enough for him to succeed over this distance.
There are more question marks than hard facts here and our preview’s verdict is that the only value in the Charlie Hall Chase betting market is provided by SAM WINNER at 16/1. He has to be our pick each-way (1/4 odds 1,2) at best odds of 16/1 with Ladbrokes. Nicholls can be trusted not to send out no-hopers and yet Sam Winner is priced like one.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.