Matt Tombs / Friday 1st November 2013 / 16:30
1pt Benefficient to win the Charlie Hall Chase @ 9/1
1pt Sizing Europe to win the JNWine Champion Chase @ 3/1
The Charlie Hall Chase has got a great betting shape as I’m itching to take on the top class Long Run (5/4). He’s been a really consistent horse and did me a lot of favours in his Gold Cup season, but there’s no room for sentiment - and the fact is that he has never run well for Nicky Henderson on his seasonal debut. He looked chucked in for the 2010 Paddy Power off 153 (after Sam Waley Cohen’s claim) but was only 3rd. In the last two years, he’s been comfortably beaten in the Betfair Chase by Kauto Star & Silviniaco Conti.
Nicky Henderson hasn’t run any of his many big guns yet, suggesting that he’s taking his usual slowly, slowly approach at this time of year. Sam Waley-Cohen said Long Run was running here as “maybe he’s getting a bit bored at home on the gallops” which hardly suggests he’s really forward. Starting out 3 weeks earlier than usual suggests he’s likely to really need this. If he’s near his King George or Gold Cup form from last season, he wins, but he looks to need a real test of stamina now, so connections face a quandary without an obvious front runner. If Long Run has to help force the pace, how hard a race are they willing to give him first time? It certainly looked the case in last season’s Betfair that they were reluctant to do that, allowing Ruby to dictate the pace on Silviniaco Conti.
I’m not sure Unioniste (7/2) is good enough, nor what his ideal trip is. He won the big December handicap at Cheltenham (2m5f, heavy) – but after all the allowances that was off 131. Neither he nor Hadrian’s Approach were anything like fully fit when they clashed at Newbury so I’d ignored that and he then was only a fair 9l 4th in the RSA, in trouble some way out. He’s only getting 4lb from Long Run here, which gives him a lot to find. He is still unexposed but he looks too short given how much he has to find.
Cape Tribulation (7/1) is really a classy handicapper, (won the Roland Meyrick off 142 last season.) He then won a weak renewal of the Argento in desperate ground at Cheltenham in January but is basically an out and out stayer. It’ll say little for the opposition if he’s able to grind them down in this.
That leaves two of last season’s leading novice chasers to concentrate on. Overall I’m inclined to agree with the consensus that they were just an average crop, but to some extent that’s judging them against the outstanding crop the previous season, (who they will be competing against this season.) However, there are inevitably some that have been underrated and I think Harry Topper and Benefficient are two such horses.
They are very different types - Harry Topper (8/1) is a real stayer for whom 3m1f will be around his minimum trip. He won 3 in a row last season, beating Rocky Creek at Exeter and then coming from a seemingly impossible position to collar Benefficient (who gave 3lb) close home at Newbury, (3m, soft). The two are very closely matched on that. The obvious conclusion is that the trip on good to soft ground will suit Harry Topper more. The problem is that he tipped up at Kelso and was then brought down at Punchestown. He’s only 6 and the apple of Kim Bailey’s eye – I’m concerned that he won’t be wound up for this, the priority being to get a clear round. It rained this afternoon at Wetherby and there’s some rain forecast for tomorrow - if the ground were to get genuinely testing then he’d be the selection.
However, assuming the ground remains good to soft, I prefer Benefficient (9/1) who would be giving weight to Harry Topper and Unioniste if this was a handicap and seems to be continually underrated. The consensus is that he won’t get the trip, but I’m not so sure. If he’d not had that sole run over 3m, then the way he stayed on to win the Jewson would have everyone saying he desperately needed a step up to 3m+.
Watching the Newbury race again, Benefficient wasn’t coming back to other stout stayers Houblon Des Obeaux and Highland Lodge in the last 100 yards. It was more a case of Harry Topper flying past them having not got going until late on. Benefficient wore a hood for the first time at Cheltenham, which apparently helped him relax, as he’d been much too keen previously. It’s always hard to know if headgear will work more than once, (I’d ignore his Punchestown run when he looked over the top). If it does and he relaxes in the race, then I think he’ll get the trip. There are obviously question marks, but there are about the opposition too and he’s a big price so is worth backing with AP on board.
The supporting card at Wetherby is headed by a fascinating clash in the Grade 2 3m West Yorkshire Hurdle. It looks a match with Albert Bartlett and Sefton winner At Fishers Cross the (10/11) favourite. He dominated the staying novice division last season and looks a really good prospect. The form of his 2 Grade 1 wins has taken plenty of knocks though so he may have been bossing a weak division. He could easily be a World Hurdle horse but I’m not keen to steam into him at odds-on. That’s particularly the case as old Tidal Bay (7/2) is in opposition. He’ll be a teenager in a few weeks but was in superb form last season, winning a weaker renewal of this (when unpenalised), coming out the best horse at the weights in Bob’s Worth’s Hennessy and winning the Lexus. He missed the rest of the season with an injury and it’s hard to know how straight he’ll be for this – and he has to give At Fishers Cross 4lb. It’s therefore one to watch.
The first Grade 1 chase of the season is the JN Wine at Down Royal, (3m). It doesn’t look that strong a field and the key here is the ground. It’s currently yielding, good to yielding in places. There is some rain forecast for tomorrow but given that ‘good’ currently is in the going description, it should be predominantly yielding rather than soft by post time. Sizing Europe (3/1) should get the trip on yielding ground and can outclass these. He’s run twice at 3m before – both times in this race, but on soft ground. 3 years ago he got within 4l of Kauto Star and 2 years ago he got mugged close home by Quito De La Roque.
Now an 11 year old, he ought to see the trip out better and as well as aiding his stamina issue, he’s always preferred a sound surface, (even at 2m). He’s unbelievable consistent having been in the first 3 in all 24 chases and only the mighty Sprinter Sacre has beaten him by 8l or more. He’s fit from his Gowran win and unless the heavens open he should be a fair bit shorter than 5/2.
The main danger is First Lieutenant (11/4). There are two concerns about him. The first is that in his previous 2 seasons over fences, he’s taken a while to hit form. He ran against Quito De La Roque 4 times last year and it was only in this race (First Lieutenant’s 2nd run of the season), that Quito De La Roque got anywhere near him. First Lieutenant again ran poorly in his comeback race behind Toner D’Oudairies at Punchestown and I wonder whether he’ll need this as well. Like Henderson, Mouse Morris is a trainer who doesn’t over-face his horses at this time of year.
The second is the trip, (3m1f). The consensus is a stayer and the trip (2m5f) was what beat him in the Ryanair. I think Cue Card is a top class horse and just a fair bit better than First Lieutenant. His only win at 3m+ came at Aintree where he beat another suspect stayer (Menorah), with Silviniaco Conti (3rd) not looking as if he’d got over his Gold Cup exertions. You couldn’t describe him simply as a non-stayer – but I think he’s better at shorter.
Kauto Stone (5/1) won this last year and always seems to run his best race first time out but he faces a more formidable opponent this year in Sizing Europe. Mount Benbulben (6/1) got his jumping together to win the end of season novice Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival but he may have been flattered by that. He’s the type who might need experience racing in open company before he can show his true form.