The ITV racing team is bringing viewers action from Ascot and Wetherby on Saturday, where the Charlie Hall Chase takes centre stage at Wetherby and really marks the starts of the jumps season proper. This is a day that jump racing fans look forward to the second the final runner passed the post at the Punchestown festival.
Sodexo Gold Cup
Go Conquer took this twelve months ago under Aidan Coleman but following that victory he was unsuccessful in three more starts. Paul and Claire Rooney have since moved their nine-year-old from Jonjo O’Neill to Nigel Twiston Davies. There is no doubt that Twiston Davies will be hoping to hit the ground running with his new inmate.
Gary Moore trains the market leader in the form of Traffic Fluide who boasts top class back form, having run predominantly in Grade 1 contests over the past three seasons. He has already run once this season finishing second to The Young Master at Chepstow last month and with that run under his belt, he’ll take all the beating.
Adrien Du Pont represents the Paul Nicholls team and although he has plenty of class, he doesn’t get his head in front that often. I think he will be bang there going to the last but looks booked for the bridesmaid position yet again.
Selection: Go Conquer
OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle
The OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle, is the first listed race on Charlie Hall race day and it sees some of the top British mares in training take each other on. Irish Roe was one of last season’s most improved mares starting on a mark of 120 and ending up finishing up a close sixth in the Scottish Champion Hurdle off 140.
Lady Buttons won and was placed in listed events last season and she has won twice on seasonal debuts. She was the fourth in a Grade 1 at Aintree when last seen in action and seems to be an upward curve.
The Fergal O’Brien trained Oscar Rose is the only other runner with a chance of winning this having been a wide margin winner on seasonal debut at Worcester. That was her first run since winning a listed bumper back in 2016 and with this confidence boosting run behind her, she looks sure to run well.
Selection: Irish Roe
Charlie Hall Chase
The Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase is the cornerstone of Wetherby’s jumps season and has been won by great chaser down through the years including One Man (1996 & 1997), See More Business (1999 & 2000) and Cue Card (2015).
It’s unfortunate that we won’t get to see Thistlecrack take up this engagement and every racing fan was eagerly awaiting his reappearance but we will get to see one of last season’s good news stories, as Black Corton made an incredible rise through the ranks. Once Bryony Frost sat on Paul Nicholls charge, he turned inside out, from winning a novice chase at Worcester in July to winning the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
There is no way he can emulate the heights of last season but I’m sure he will give Bryony Frost some great spins again this season. Double Shuffle looks most likely to give Black Corton a hard life and it’s incredible that for a horse of his quality, he’s only won twice over fences. Tom George’s charge finished second in the King George behind Might Bite last season and if he brings that form into this race, then he’ll take all the beating.
Definitly Red represents the Brian Ellison team and he’s my idea of the winner. He finished third behind Bristol De Mai in the race last season and went on to win a brace of Grade 2 events. He finished sixth behind Native River in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham festival and if Ellison has his stable star primed for the occasion, he’s the one to beat.
Selection: Definitly Red
West Yorkshire Hurdle
This Grade 2 contest has proved to be a good stepping stone for horses that have aspirations of winning the stayers hurdle at the festival with previous dual winners including Inglis Drever and Cole Harden.
The Nigel Twiston Davies trained Wholestone is the standout runner in the field, having had a very fruitful 2017/2018 season which included a win in the Relkeel Hurdle and solid placed efforts in the Cleeve and both the Cheltenham and Aintree Stayers’ hurdles. He also finished runner-up in this contest twelve months ago behind Colin’s Sister. He has the best form in the race and will prove very difficult to beat.
Old Guard shares the burden of top weight with Wholestone but has the benefit of a pipe-opener in a listed hurdle at Kempton two weeks ago. He had won the same contest last season and on their running in the Relkeel, he has plenty to find in order to reverse the placings.
The final two with chances are Clyne and Keeper Hill.
JNwine.com Champion Chase
Down Royal plays host to the Champion Chase on Saturday and it’s the first Grade 1 race of the Irish National Hunt season. It has become an early-season target for some great horses in the past including Beef or Salmon (2004 & 2006) and Kauto Star (2008 & 2010).
Balko Des Flos tops the market for Henry De Bromead and the Gigginstown House Stud operation. He won last season’s Galway Plate and followed this up with a victory in the Ryanair Chase beating the “good thing” Un De Sceaux. I’d imagine connections will have visions of landing back to back renditions of the Ryanair this season.
Henry de Bromhead is also responsible for Sub Lieutenant, who has already had three runs this season. He began with an honourable fifth in the Galway Plate behind Clarcam and followed it with two wins at Galway and Punchestown. He has the class and match-fitness, which will make him difficult to contain.
Road To Respect finished runner-up to Outlander twelve months ago in what proved to a light but good campaign. He won the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown beating Balko De Flos and went straight to Cheltenham where he finished fourth in the Gold Cup. This run alone would be good enough to win and if Noel Meade has him fit enough then he should make a winning seasonal debut.
Outlander will be hoping to win back to back renewals of this and although he was well beaten by Road To Respect at Punchestown on seasonal debut, he will have his supporters.
Selection: Road To Respect