Weird Al looks the one
All eyes will be on the Breeders' Cup over at Santa Anita this weekend, but back on the home front then, for me, this is the first Saturday of real National Hunt action with a decent card at Ascot, the Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, while over in Ireland it's the JNwine.com Champion Chase.
Looking at the Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase first - this race holds some fond memories for me having landed the Grade 2 twice with the classy One Man back in the nineties and with an excellent line-up entered at this stage then there's plenty to look forward to.
Last year's winner, Weird Al, will be hoping to become the seventh previous winner of the race to go on and take the prize again and should he take his chance will come into the race as the highest-rated runner.
We last saw this lightly-raced 9 year-old taking a tumble in the Grand National, after being pulled up in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham the time before that, and although clearly not the easiest to train he's a horse that goes well fresh (won first time out for the past 4 seasons) and is 2-from-2 here at Wetherby - should he line-up he'll certainly take a lot of beating.
Wayward Prince is another that seems to like it here at Wetherby, but rather lost his way last season and, therefore, a lot has to be taken on trust, while the same can be said for Diamond Harry, who was a late withdrawal ahead of this race 12 months ago when well fancied. He's not won since his 2010 Hennessy victory, and is another that's had his training problems.
Time For Rupert was a 3 ½ length runner-up in the race last season, but went onto be a very respectable fifth in the Gold Cup last March and still being only 8 years-old then there will be plenty of punters out there still keeping the faith in this Paul Webber-trained horse. He is, however, also entered at Ascot at the weekend, so although connections have said Wetherby is their preference it's worth waiting to see for sure.
If connections decide to run him then Midnight Legend is only rated 1lb below Weird Al and would, of course, be popular. He ran a decent third at the track on Boxing Day last year but it's no secret that he seems to save his best for Cheltenham, while if previous seasons are to go on then he's often needed his first run.
The final one worth a big mention is Paul Nicholls' Silviniaco Conti, who we last saw winning in facile fashion at Aintree last April. This will only be his sixth run over fences, and at 6 years-old then he could in for a big season, but it is worth noting that the last time a horse aged 6 or younger took this race was in 1982! I've listed a load more key Charlie Hall trends to look out for below....
The other race of interest at Wetherby is the John Smith's Hurdle at 2.50. Restless Harry took the honours 12 months ago and looks set to line-up again, but good old Fair Along, twice a winner of this race and runner-up last season, could also line-up again and after a fair third at Ffos Las a few months ago then he might be the value at a track he clearly loves.
Over in Ireland the JNwine.com Champion Chase is the feature contest at Down Royal and at this stage of the week last year's winner Quito De La Roque is still entered. He'll love it if the ground comes up soft again like last year and despite clearly having his problems since running third in the Lexus Chase (his last race) over Christmas he'll still be popular.
Although not a certain runner, Sizing Europe, who was runner-up 12 months ago, could also take his chance again in the race, but, for me, despite being the best horse he's still got to prove he can win over this 3m trip with all his career victories to date coming over 2 ½ m or shorter.
The final thing to note is keep an eye if Paul Nicholls sends anything over to run. He's targeted this prize with success three times in the last 5 seasons, and his overall record at Down Royal in recent years reads a hugely impressive 6-from-8 (75%) - at this stage he's got Kauto Stone engaged.
Charlie Hall Chase Trends and Facts
9/10 - Returned 7/1 or shorter
9/10 - Having their first run of the season
9/10 - Won over at least 3m over fences previously
9/10 - Aged 8 or older
8/10 - Won at least 4 times over fences previously
8/10 - Ran at either Ayr (3), Aintree (3) or Cheltenham (2) last time out
8/10 - Rated 151 or higher
8/10 - Favourites placed
7/10 - Aged 8 or 9 years-old
6/10 - Raced at Wetherby before (2 won)
5/10 - Finished 1st or 2nd in their last race
2/10 - Favourites that won
2/10 - Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies
2/10 - Trained by Evan Williams
2/10 - Ridden by Timmy Murphy
2/10 - Ridden by Paul Moloney
Since 1981 we've only seen two winners aged less than 7 years-old
Since 1981 the Charlie Hall Chase has been won by a past winner of the race six times
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies won the race in 1992, 1994, 2005 & 2007
The average winning SP in the last 10 years is 8/1
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