Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YOGAZ to 80360 or send an email»
Stellar set of runners to set Wetherby alight
IT is a line-up that wouldn’t look out of place at the Cheltenham Festival next March. If you get the chance to watch tomorrow’s bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby Racecourse then take it because it’s rare to see such a stellar set of chasers going into battle so early in the National Hunt season.
Ironically, the wet summer that has plagued their Flat colleagues might actually have helped the West Yorkshire track – by producing almost perfect good to soft jumping ground that has tempted trainers to have a crack at the flagship £100,000 Grade 2 contest.
From former Gold Cup contenders Midnight Chase, Diamond Harry, Time For Rupert and Weird Al, the reigning Charlie Hall Chase champ, to Silviniaco Conti – considered one of the new flagbearers at Paul Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard following the retirement of Kauto Star – it will be a quality line-up for the contest, over three miles and one furlong, should the entries stand their ground at the final declaration stage today.
All of which has left Wetherby chief executive Jonjo Sanderson salivating at the prospect of one of the higher rated renewals of recent years.
“I am delighted,” he said. “Every year I say that but this is the fifth year I have done it and it is getting better and better.
“The last four years, the winners were rated 152, 151, 158 and 151 and this year we have got entries who are rated 164 and 163 so it is right at the top of the scale. It’s very exciting.
“The Charlie Hall Chase is part of the programme. It all builds towards Cheltenham and the trainers are bringing their horses out.
“Maybe the ground is a bit better. We’ve had a very wet summer and a fairly wet autumn so we have got good to soft ground – which will be no quicker than good to soft tomorrow – and that has to be a factor.
“The jockeys at our first meeting said the ground was beautiful and were asking what I had done to it. I said we’d had 18 inches of rain.”
Time For Rupert, who finished second to Weird Al last year, is also entered at Ascot. But trainer Paul Webber said the preference would be to target Wetherby – given the scale of the prize fund on offer.
“He has done well over the summer – he is a little bit stronger and heavier – and he has done plenty of work so we are looking forward to the weekend,” he said of the eight-year-old.
“There aren’t many bigger races than the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase as it’s a Grade 2 worth £100,000.
“The Hennessy (at Newbury) is not worth much more and obviously we will consider that, but let’s see what happens on Saturday.”
For Sanderson, who has suffered barbs in recent years from critics of the track following its realignment because of work on the nearby A1, a card of high-profile runners and a successful event would be testament to the “hard work and effort that has gone into restoring the faith of the upper echelons of National Hunt racing to place their horses on the track”.
“This weekend is not only a major highlight of our season, but the National Hunt racing season generally, and we are absolutely delighted with the entries the race has once again received,” he added.
“If the majority of the expected runners stand their ground, it is shaping up to be another competitive renewal of this great race.”
Tribulation to jump to it again
MALCOLM JEFFERSON’S Cape Tribulation will return to action over hurdles in the £32,000 Grade 2 John Smith’s Hurdle over three miles and a furlong at Wetherby tomorrow.
The progressive eight-year-old completed a rare double in the spring when winning the Listed Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival and the Grade 3 Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle at Aintree’s John Smith’s Grand National meeting.
He returned from a break with a promising second on the Flat over two and a quarter miles at York last month, when he was beaten by a head.
Norton-based Jefferson said: “He has come out of his race at York in smashing form and I couldn’t be happier with him. He was in good nick heading into York and I was hopeful he could win there but he just got beat. He ran a brilliant race.
“We are going to give him an entry in the Hennessy as he is very well handicapped over fences. Unless something went wrong with Big Buck’s – we are not going to beat him – we will probably give him a try back over fences at some point.
“I don’t think the trip in the Hennessy will be a problem for him as he stayed on well at Cheltenham and Aintree and he is a very tough horse.
“If you look at the races he won at Cheltenham and Aintree last year, the ground was probably just on the quicker side of good really and as long as it’s good, safe ground, that’s okay for him.”