It was great to see Aidan O’Brien beat the world record for Group1 races won, in last week’s Racing Post Trophy, particularly as he achieved the record with Oddsguru’s selection, Saxon Hero. Aidan’s horse looked in trouble when Roaring Lion challenged and headed him at the furlong marker, but despite the Gosden horse doing himself no favours by hanging badly, I felt that Saxon Hero showed his class, quickening again, and was comfortably in charge at the line. The son of the fabulous Japanese stallion, Deep Impact, he is favourite for next year’s Derby, but as his dam, Multiply, was best at a mile, breeding would suggest that ten furlongs might prove to be the colt’s optimum trip and for those thinking of having an antepost bet, a waiting brief is advised.
Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase, run over three miles with eighteen fences in the way, presents an entirely different challenge, but has attracted some of the best exponents of “The Winter Game” around, including the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree and the evergreen veteran, Cue Card.
Hopes are high that Coneygree will become the first winner of Cheltenham’s Blue Riband to grace the field since See More Business in 2000, but he does need an easy surface to take part. However with soft in the current going description it is hoped that Malcom Bradstock’s marvellous 10yo will line up on Saturday. He was the first Novice since the Pat Taffe trained Captain Christy in 1974 to win The Gold Cup, and that effort in 2015 was all the more remarkable, as it was only his fifth race over the larger obstacles. Due to injury he has only raced three times since his Cheltenham victory, winning at Sandown in November 2015, finishing third behind Cue Card at Haydock a year later, and showing that there was still plenty left in the locker when only beaten a short head and a length and a half by this year’s Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, and Djakadam, at The Punchestown Festival last April. He was entered for The Kerry National in September so should be pretty straight for this his seasonal debut, and due to the conditions of the race, he receives six pounds from Cue Card so must go there with every chance.
It is hard to believe that it will be eight years next March since the evergreen Cue Card won the Festival Bumper at Cheltenham, but Colin Tizzard’s amazing 11yo just keeps on winning, and has amassed an astonishing £1,372,065 in prize money for his lucky connections. He won The Charlie Hall in 2015 but could only manage to finish third to Irish Cavalier, (Oddsguru’s Selection at 16/1) in last years renewal. Although subsequently winning two Grade1 contests, and only beaten a neck in a third, he has a tough looking task on Saturday giving 6lbs to Coneygree.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has won this three times, with Tipping Tim in 1992, and twice with Ollie Magern, in 2005 and 2007. He looks to hold a strong hand again this year with last year’s fourth, the 8yo Blaklion, and the two years younger, Bristol De Mai. The former went on to finish an excellent 4th in The Grand National, and as a course and distance winner of a Grade2 Chase, has to be of interest. However he does seem to need a testing surface at three miles, and with little rain in the forecast Nigel’s best chance of bringing the prize home to Naunton for a fourth time would seem to lie with Bristol De Mai.
A winner of five of his fourteen chases, he has shown all his best form in his three seasons racing, prior to the big Spring festivals. Last term was no different, and he put up his best performance of the season when winning a 3mile Grade2 Chase at Haydock (soft) off a mark of 154 by 22L and 3 1/2L from Otago Trail, and Bishops road, in January. As the runner up won a Grade2 Sandown Handicap next time out the form looks strong, and despite a couple of subsequent lacklustre attempts by Nigel’s 6yo, I suspect there is plenty more to come from Bristol De Mai, and as one who can go well after a break has to be on the shortlist.
Another who can go well fresh, is the Brian Ellison trained Definitly Red, and he was particularly impressive when winning by 14L from The Last Samurai at Doncaster in March. He was subsequently sent off a very well backed 10/1 shot for The Grand National, but was badly hampered at Beechers on the first circuit, and was pulled up. He looked an improved animal in that Doncaster heat, and with a score of a win and a second from his two Wetherby appearances is well worth considering.
A winner of seven of his first eight races, including The World Hurdle by 1 1/2L from that marvellous Mare, Annie Power in 2014, great hopes were entertained for Jonjo O’Neill’s 9yo, More Of That. However since his second win in as many races over fences in December 2015 he has failed to get his head in front, and indeed the only slight ray of light in his last six outings, has been his 6th in this year’s Gold Cup, 9 3/4L behind the winner, Sizing John. Pulled up at the last in The Grand National, connections continue to persevere with the 9yo, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise, if this once outstanding animal figured at the weekend.
Selection : Bristol De Mai
E.W. : Definitly Red