Alex Hammond racing blog ahead of Charlie Hall Chase weekend

Alex Hammond looks ahead to the action
Alex Hammond looks ahead to the action

Double Shuffle looks up to landing the Charlie Hall Chase, according to Alex Hammond - she reflects on the recent action and highlights her weekend tips.

Magna Grecia was left unchanged by Sky Bet at 16/1 for the 2000 Guineas following his Vertem Futurity Trophy win. What do you think to that?

The race has often had a significant bearing on the following year’s Classics, but I’m not sure this performance screamed Guineas/Derby winner. The horses finished pretty close to one another and there was controversy too as the runner up Phoenix Of Spain was impeded by the winner. My gut feeling is that there are much better juveniles around and probably a couple we haven’t laid eyes on yet. This season’s crop look strong and I think that price for the Guineas is a fair reflection of his chance in the first colt’s Classic of 2019 as there are definitely a few round already that are much better. I would be surprised if the first two home turn out to be as good as last year’s one-two, Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion, but they are both clearly very smart and their connections have plenty to look forward to next year.

Magna Grecia (far side) wins the Vertem Futurity Trophy
Magna Grecia (far side) wins the Vertem Futurity Trophy

Domestically, at least, the focus is on the jumps this weekend with the Charlie Hall taking centre stage at Wetherby. What are your thoughts in the absence of Thistlecrack?

It’s really disappointing that Thistlecrack misses the race as ground conditions will be too fast for Colin Tizzard’s smart stayer. Last season he didn’t fulfil the potential he had shown over hurdles and as a novice chaser, which culminated in that King George win in 2016. Let’s hope they find a suitable race soon as he’s been off since Boxing Day. That leaves the race with a really open feel with Clan Des Obeaux, Black Corton and Bristol De Mai all vying for favouritism. Bryony Frost has picked up where she left off after serious injury and won last weekend’s national hunt feature, Aintree’s Old Roan Chase on Frodon. She will be hoping to do the double on her favourite little horse Black Corton, but like Thistlecrack the ground may not have enough ease in it and he has other options including at Down Royal on the same day. Like Black Corton, Clan Des Obeaux is also trained by Paul Nicholls and it sounds like his trainer is expecting great things from him this season. I’m a bit concerned that Nicholls said in his recent stable tour in the Racing Post that this horse also needs soft ground, so there would have to be some concern that good ground (watering) may not be suitable for him either. With Bristol De Mai another confirmed mud lover, this race could really cut up and it will pay to wait and see which horses are declared to run. Nicholls spoke on At The Races in the week and it sounded like Black Corton may go to Wetherby and Clan Des Obeaux to Down Royal. One thing seems certain, there is no rain forecast in West Yorkshire, so that is likely to rule out the latter. Enough speculating for now. Double Shuffle, Virgilio and Definitly Red all enjoy good ground, so no excuses on that score for the trio with Double Shuffle getting the nod from me - he’s a 9/2 shot with Sky Bet.

Double Shuffle (right) chases Might Bite home at Kempton
Double Shuffle (right) chases Might Bite home at Kempton

Overseas it’s the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs – what is your idea of the best bet on the card?

I’m quite keen on Eziyra for Dermot Weld and Frankie Dettori in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday night. If you have a good memory, you’ll recall that I gave her a positive mention in a previous blog and fancied her for the Fillies and Mares race on Champions Day at Ascot. She didn’t run there and has only had 3 starts this autumn, so goes to America a fresh horse. Her best run this season may have come in defeat, when she finished third behind Sea Of Class and Coronet in the Yorkshire Oaks, she won her two outing starts this season. Weld has a great record over the years with his overseas raiders and at 13/2 seems decent each way value. Charlie Appleby’s Nassau Stakes and Prix de l’Opera winner Wild Illusion is 2/1 favourite to win the race. Eziyra is drawn wide, which is a significant disadvantage, but she has successfully deployed hold up tactics in the past and Dettori may need to ride her that way again from 14 of 14.

Eziyra wins in good style
Click on the image for Eziyra's Breeders' Cup odds

Enable stars for Team Europe in the Turf – are there any concerns for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner ahead of her first non-European assignment?

There are plenty of concerns, but whether they are enough to stop her making history that remains to be seen. No horse has ever won the Arc and gone on to win a race at the Breeders’ Cup meeting, but I think that can often be put down to the rigours of a long, hard season. That certainly isn’t the case with Enable who was side-lined with injury until her seasonal reappearance at Kempton in September. Her trainer John Gosden said she was still only 85% fit when she toughed it out to win the Arc, which makes you think that was a reasonable prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf! She has a superb racing brain and her attitude is unquestionable. I can’t see anything other than bad luck beating her, although you never know how well a horse has taken the globetrotting until it’s too late. She’s 4/7 favourite with Sky Bet to win on Saturday night, so doesn’t appeal as a betting proposition, but I hope that she will win to cement her position as one of the best in the world.

Frankie Dettori celebrates
Frankie Dettori celebrates after winning the Arc on Enable

And finally, what about Roaring Lion in the Classic? Can he defy the odds and his pedigree and record a memorable win in the big one?

This is a trickier question because he is undoubtedly the best horse in the field, but he has had a very different build-up to the meeting than his stablemate Enable. He made his seasonal debut in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket back in April and has run seven times since then. So, eight races before his trip to the States and some gruelling battles to boot. Is that conducive to winning one of the toughest races in the world for a European trained horse? Not really. The question should be, are you prepared to take a risk on Roaring Lion in the Classic at 8/1 with Sky Bet? As the firm are paying four places, rather than three, I think my answer to that question is yes. It would be one heck of a training performance by John Gosden if this comes off, but if anyone can, Gosden can! Go Team Europe!

Listen to our Breeders' Cup Podcast
Click on the image to listen to our Breeders' Cup Podcast


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