IF THERE is one race day that many National Hunt fans mark off on their calendar as the day the flat and jumps finally exchange hands it is probably Charlie Hall Chase day at Wetherby.
This weekend sees some of the stars over the obstacles make their seasonal bow in what looks likely to be an absolute peach of a card with multiple Grade One winners on view.
With that in mind I’d expected to focus on the jumping action but I’d like to make an exception for one horse and his name is Cape Peron. Henry Candy’s star three-year-old has had an unfortunate campaign, mainly due to the unusually dry summer. I’ve been following him all year long and was left banging my head against the wall when he absolutely bolted up on soft ground in France last time out when I didn’t even know he was running! He goes again on Saturday at Newmarket and, with the promise of soft ground and seemingly everything in his favour, it could well be a chance to boost that Christmas shopping fund.
In the weekend’s main event, the Charlie Hall Chase, we see the early reappearance of Gold Cup and dual King George winner Long Run. Still only eight, Nicky Henderson’s charge could nevertheless be viewed as the ‘Peter Pan’ of the jumps circuit, having achieved so much at such a young age he seems to have been around a long time. He is clear of his rivals on official ratings in this, but in the past has often needed his first run to get race ready having never won first time out for the Seven Barrows trainer. He also possesses oodles of stamina and has been found wanting on flatter tracks in the past so may not find the course to his liking. Likely to go off around the even money mark or possibly shorter, I wouldn’t make him a betting proposition.
Last year Paul Nicholls saddled Silviniaco Conti to success here and this time around he saddles the promising grey Unioniste. Watching this son of Dom Alco run, the most striking thing is just how well he jumps. I can’t say I’ve seen many so young (he was jumping fences as a four year old last year) look like such a natural over his obstacles. He’s certainly one of the more precocious staying chasers on the circuit, but one thing that worries me about him is his lack of speed. He won a good handicap at Cheltenham over two miles five furlongs last December, but I’m convinced his class along with the featherweight he was carrying carried him through that day and he’s another who could be found out on this flatter track. He’s also one who’d want the ground pretty deep.
Cape Tribulation was one of last season’s success stories. Having started his season over hurdles on this very card he was then sent over fences to tremendous effect, including when hosing up in the Rowland Meyrick over course and distance on Boxing Day. In his next assignment he was upped in class for the Argento Chase on Cheltenham trials day, a race in which he flew up the hill to chin the old warrior Imperial Commander and land his biggest success to date. Two more solid efforts followed without getting his nose in front, but he could just find this more to his liking and land a well-earned big Saturday pot for Malcolm Jefferson and the team.
One of the pleasant surprises Saturday’s card brings is in the West Yorkshire Hurdle, where two of jumps racing’s biggest names line up for what promises to be an early season cracker.
We start here with last season’s Albert Bartlett winner and many people’s idea of this season’s World Hurdle winner (including mine), At Fishers Cross. Throughout last season Rebecca Curtis’s tough stayer just kept on improving and then really caught the public’s attention when taking the notable scalp of eventual Neptune winner and current Champion Hurdle favourite, The New One. He followed that up with festival success in the mud and, perhaps more impressively, when sauntering home in the Sefton Novice Hurdle at Aintree at the Grand National meeting on better ground. I’m convinced this lad’s next in line for what was formerly Big Buck’s’ staying hurdle throne and I fully expect him to prove just that on Saturday.
It won’t all be plain sailing however, and in Tidal Bay he certainly finds himself a worthy, if not slightly quirky, adversary. The penny finally seemed to drop for the enigmatic 12-year-old last season, initially when stealing this from a seemingly impossible position late on. A cracking second behind Bobs Worth in a hot Hennessy followed, leading to his remarkable Lexus win at Leopardstown in what was deemed by many as the best race in that or any other National Hunt season. Injury cut his season short so, although I could never truly write him off for this, it may be best to look elsewhere and maintain a watching brief with him for now.
At Ascot, Nicky Henderson sends last year’s winner of the United House Gold Cup, Roberto Goldback, to defend his crown. After strolling to success in this in what was his first run for his new trainer last season, the former Irish-trained gelding proved difficult to place following a significant hike in the weights. That win was off a mark of 150 and the handicapper appears to have loosened his grip once again as he gets in this time just one pound higher than last year. That could prove generous and I believe he could go well again, although another year older I do have my concerns about whether the trip could be a bit sharp for him.
Also in the race Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles Same Difference, a horse I expect to see a great deal of improvement out of this season. He really came of age at the back end of last term, showing a great deal of tenacity when fighting his way up the Cheltenham hill to win the Kim Muir at the festival and followed that up with a cracking second in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, when giving lumps of weight to the horse that just got to him, Quentin Collonges. Although Saturday’s three mile trip may be a bit sharp for him also, I’d expect a fair showing from him off his current mark and with ‘Twister’ having his horses in fine fettle at the moment, he could take all the beating.
3.00 At Fishers Cross
3.35 Cape Tribulation
3.20 Same Difference
3.30 Cape Peron