Benefit with Irish raider
Ben Coley provides a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
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CAPE TRIBULATION: Beaten in feature hurdles race on this card last year before returning to the track to win Rowland Merrick impressively. From there, won the Argento Chase and looked to have each-way claims in the Gold Cup only to disappoint there and then at Aintree. On reflection, that Argento form doesn't look particularly strong and while this one doesn't mind any ground, perhaps he needs it soft to compete against the very best. Decent record fresh, however, and at a course he loves and with doubts surrounding some of his rivals a big run looks possible.
LONG RUN: Remarkable eight-year-old who has yet to fail to complete or even finish outside of the first three despite some jumping issues. Tenacious success in the King George the highlight of his last campaign before typically creditable runs at both Cheltenham and Punchestown. That Kempton race is again the target but on paper there's no reason why he can't win this first. However, doubts surround Wetherby's suitability and he's been beaten on his seasonal return in each of the last three seasons. It's hard to see him becoming anything other than harder to get fit as the years go by and with that in mind he could be vulnerable, although these doubts are factored in to odds-against quotes.
WAYWARD PRINCE: High-class as a novice with his beating of Cape Tribulation here particularly eye-catching, but below that level for a while and four runs this year offer little hope, the most recent of which was a pipe-opener over hurdles. However, was second - albeit a distance second - to the classy Silviniaco Conti in this last year and course and conditions are absolutely fine. No temptation to back him.
HARRY TOPPER: Out-and-out stayer who is in good hands and has won all three completed starts over fences. Unseated Timmy Murphy when bang there in Kelso's Premier Chase before unfortunate when brought down at Punchestown. No reason either incident should raise much cause for concern as typically jumped well and defeat of Rocky Creek on return to action last season reads well, as does subsequent defeat of Benefficient at Newbury. Untested outside at this level and not certain Wetherby will suit but remains a horse of untapped potential and expected to run well.
UNIONISTE: Produced an incredible performance to win a decent Cheltenham handicap as a four-year-old, beating a good yardstick going away. Followed that up with a battling effort at Haydock, but unable to confirm that form when asked another big question in the RSA Chase. Still, fourth in that stamina-sapping test is not an effort to be sniffed at given his age and inexperience and providing he's not the worse for it the best is yet to come. Jumps like he's twice his age and shouldn't be inconvenienced by this track, won on seasonal return last year and might just take the beating.
BENEFFICIENT: Winner of the Irish Arkle who went on to win the Jewson Novices' Chase in the manner of a horse who may improve further still when returned to this sort of trip, one over which he was beaten by Harry Topper previously. Potentially underrated given SPs of three high-profile wins (50/1, 20/1 and 10/1) and has the advantage of a recent run on the flat which should've put him right for this. Concern would have to be his poor if excusable run at the Punchestown Festival but otherwise interesting at a track which may play to his strengths.
BIG FELLA THANKS: The veteran of the field and understandably hard to win with these days. Versatile in regards trip and ground and has gone well fresh in the past, but trainer will be looking further down the line in terms of targets and it's very hard to envisage him finishing in the frame here.
BILLIE MAGERN: Lowest-rated runner in the field who needs a sound surface to produce his best, as was shown when he was pulled up on soft ground on sole start here. Will take a hand early as tends to set the pace but unlikely to still be a factor come the final circuit.
MASTER OF THE HALL: Formerly prolific nine-year-old who is talented on his day but was last of six in 2012 renewal. Now with Micky Hammond, a trainer not known for his staying chasers, and would need a return to his absolute best to hold a place chance. Conditions shouldn't be a problem but beaten a combined 150-plus lengths in last four starts for Nicky Henderson and doubt he's about to improve much on that.
VERDICT: A race which revolves around Long Run, whose best form gives him every right to win this well. However, while he's proven to be a remarkably consistent horse he's probably at his most vulnerable first time out and with Wetherby not certain to suit he's worth taking on, although don't expect him to be out of the first three. The obvious danger is Unioniste and he'll do for many but the prices look to reflect his prospects and instead I'd rather chance BENEFFICIENT. Tony Martin's horse has some high-class form to his name and may just be the best served by the conditions of this race, which include ground which is forecast to dry out. He also has the benefit of a recent run to his name and at double-figure prices could cause another minor surprise.