Charlie Hall Chase Tips: Bank on Ben

There are 12 entered for Saturday's Charlie Hall at the five-day declarations stage.
There are 12 entered for Saturday's Charlie Hall at the five-day declarations stage.

Joe Tuffin previews Saturday's Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, and picks out his best bet in the race…

With the 2019/20 National Hunt season now climbing through the gears, attention turns to the first graded race over three miles, Wetherby’s bet365 Charlie Hall Chase. For many, the Grade 2 event signals the beginning of the season proper, and it has a history of attracting some of the highest quality horses in training, many of which are Gold Cup bound.

The 2019 renewal is no different, with plenty of stars touted to line up at the West Yorkshire track on Saturday. Last year’s winner Definitly Red is set to defend his crown after a two-length victory last year, and connections of the Brian Ellison-trained gelding will be confident of another bold showing from the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the race for over 30 years. It will be the third consecutive year his season has started with the Charlie Hall Chase, and with his first-time-out form reading 13121, you can be sure that the ten-year-old will be in prime condition for the race.

Another horse returning to Wetherby is last year’s runner up, Black Corton. Likely to be partnered by regular rider Bryony Frost on Saturday, Black Corton was sent off as the 5/4 favourite for the 2018 renewal, but had his hopes dashed after a terrible mistake at the third, which completely upset his rhythm and set him back a good two lengths. The eight-year-old stayed in training over the summer, and it almost paid dividends; having a prep race on the level in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot, before producing a mightily impressive effort to finish second in the Grade A Galway Plate, a race he could have won had he not been hampered on the run-in. The Paul Nicholls team will likely be confident about reversing the form with Definitly Red given that impressive showing last time out, but it’ll take another big performance to claim only his second Grade 2 victory.

The headline act in the race, though, may well come from the Warren Greatrex yard, with the two-time Grade 1 winner La Bague Au Roi aiming to start her season with a bang. The classy mare succumbed to defeat only once last year, in the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree, and she has all the credentials to claim victory on Saturday. The eight-year-old has visited Wetherby on two occasions – both resulting in victories – including listed honours in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on this card. Greatrex has been very keen on his stable star over the past few weeks, and she may well be the one they all have to beat, especially considering that she will be in receipt of up to 7 lb from her rivals. 

Last season’s Gold Cup sixth Elegant Escape is another classy performer expected to line up under Tom O’Brien, but he arrives here with something to prove having disappointed in the Aintree Bowl on his most recent start back in April. Stamina is very much his game, and this may prove a stepping stone to other targets. 

Remaining interest comes from Vinndication, whose season went a bit flat after a six-race unbeaten start to his career. However, it will be a welcome drop back to Grade 2 company after finding the highest level a bit too hot to handle, finishing third Scilly Island Novice Chase followed by fifth in JLT at the Festival - though it’s worth noting that he has several entries at the time of writing.

The Venetia Williams-trained Aso is also set to take his chance after finishing a brilliant second to Frodon when last seen in the Ryanair Chase, and he too will appreciate an ease in Grade, but may be outclassed by more senior, proven horses.

There is a welcome international assault in the form of the Jessica Harrington-trained Jett, who has been kept busy during the warmer months, winning a Grade 3 event at Punchestown last month. He will likely play a big part on his first visit across the Irish Sea, as will Ballyoptic, who is already a winner this season in Native River Chase at Chepstow earlier this month, and also boasts course form having won the 2018 Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase. Meanwhile, Double Shuffle will be looking to beat last year’s effort in this race after falling at the first.

One that will likely go under the radar is Top Ville Ben. Although not a star name like some of his rivals, he is a definite dark horse for the contest thanks to his trainer Phil Kirby, whose Wetherby form last season was breath taking. 

Finishing as the course’s top trainer for the season, Kirby was almost guaranteed a winner every time he stepped foot in West Yorkshire and seems to have the place mastered. Top Ville Ben was an eye-catching third when last seen in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April, behind two horses that have since been tipped to win a Gold Cup in Lostintranslation and Topofthegame, and before that he was seen pulverising his opponents over course and distance with a 37-length success. He may not boast pattern form but he has to start somewhere and I’d be keen to see how well he takes his chance against these classy opponents.

The ground is set to be on the soft side after heavy rain caused flooding on the back street in the week prior to the race – but the Clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson has revealed that he has no concerns about the event being abandoned, with dry days predicted in the days before the event. 

On paper it’s an intriguing affair and has received entries worthy of the race, for all that the absence of Bristol De Mai is disappointing. His absence should take nothing away from the spectacle, however, and at the prices it may be worth siding with Top Ville Ben, who has course form under his belt and represents a yard with a fine record at the track.

Selection

Saturday 2nd November 2019 - Charlie Hall Chase - Top Ville Ben @ 8/1

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