The Charlie Hall Chase (3.25pm, Wetherby, Saturday) is the first major steeplechase of the jumps’ season.
It is often contested by horses that go on to run in, and sometimes win, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Indeed, this year’s renewal has attracted Time For Rupert and Midnight Chase, who finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in last season’s blue riband event.
Paul Webber’s six-year-old Time For Rupert ran in this race last season, finishing second, beaten 3½ lengths, behind Donald McCain’s nine-year-old Weird Al. Weird Al subsequently failed to advertise the form, finishing a 10-length third to Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park before failing to finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National on his last two starts.
Time for Rupert (current odds 9/2) had a more successful season, beating subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up The Giant Bolster in a graduation chase at Newbury before finishing fifth, beaten 9½ lengths, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.
Like many of his rivals, his fitness has to be taken on trust, but his trainer Paul Webber reports that he’s done plenty of work. He’s won twice over 3m on soft ground in the past, including around Cheltenham, and his sound jumping ability will stand him in good stead over the stiff Wetherby fences.
Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old Silviniaco Conti (5/4 favourite in the betting) has been all the rage for the Charlie Hall Chase since the declarations became available. The fact that Ruby Walsh has decided to head north to West Yorkshire, instead of going to Ascot, hasn’t escaped the notice of punters. Certainly Silviniaco Conti has enough form in the book to suggest that he’s a serious contender.
His 13-length win from Champion Court in the Sefton Novices’ Chase at Aintree last April reads well in the context of this race. He won impressively on his only attempt on soft going over hurdles and he’s as short as 12/1 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup Betting.
Frankly, it’s difficult to make a case for any of the others. Neil Mulholland’s 10-year-old Midnight Chase (6/1) is just 4lbs better off for the 21½ lengths Time For Rupert beat him in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and appears safely held.
Philip Hobbs’ Planet Of Sound (5/1) has been lightly raced in recent seasons, but hasn’t won since April 2010 and Nicky Henderson’s Master Of The Hall (8/1) has done most of his winning under Barry Geraghty, who heads to Ascot rather than Wetherby.
Hilary Parrot’s Wayward Prince (16/1) has recently changed stables after three years with decent trainer Ian Williams. He was a promising novice chaser in the 2010/11 season, but was well beaten on all four starts last season. A switch to new surroundings may help, but expecting him to win a race like this is probably too much to ask.
Punters who took the 7/2 available about Silviano Conti on Tuesday morning have reason to feel pleased now he is 5/4 and has just five rivals. However Paul Nicholls’ charge makes far less appeal at current odds.