The 2016-17 jumps season gets underway this weekend with major meetings at Ascot and Wetherby. Ascot hosts the 2016 Sodexo Gold Cup, a Grade 3 chase will will start a run of 'Gold Cup' handicaps, while Wetherby will be hosting the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase.
With the Sodexo Gold Cup likely to be a lottery with a big field coming off a summer break, we're going to have a look at the Charlie Hall Chase. The 2016 edition of this race has attracted one of the UK's finest steeplechasers, as well as a handful of top class up-and-coming horses who are going to challenging for some of the big Grade 1 titles later this season.
.Run over three miles at Wetherby, the Charlie Hall Chase race distance opens it up to stayers, 3 mile specialists and horses who run mostly over 2 miles. The race also tends to attract one or two top tier horses looking for an early confidence boost ahead of the first big Grade 1 chases of the season.
Charlie Hall Chase trends
The presence of a top class chaser or two in the Charlie Hall Chase every season has a major impact on trends in the race.
Needless to say big race winners who compete in the Charlie Hall Chase tend to get favourite billing, and have a decent strike record. Three of the last five antepost favourites have gone on to win the race.
However, the official ratings for horses are much less reliable indicator of a horse's prospects. The top rated horse in the field hasn't won the race once in the past five years. This trend is most likely influenced by top rated horses being run over an intermediate distance that doesn't match their pedigree.
Also don't pay too much mind to form in the immediate run up to the race. Only one of the last five winners won their race prior to the Charlie Hall Chase. It's more important that horses have had prior wins over distances of around 3 miles at some point in their careers.
2016 Charlie Hall Chase field
Some interesting contenders will line up for the Charlie Hall Chase on Saturday. The horse doing superstar duty in the field is Cue Card, reigning Charlie Hall Chase champion, winner of last season's King George VI Chase and two times Betfair Chase champion.
With those sorts of credentials it's not surprising to find him starting this race as a below-Evens antepost favourite. He's deserving of this billing, but is quite heavily underpriced given the fact that 60% of favourites in this race have scored in recent years.
The presence of a few up-and-coming stars also ensures that it won't be a smooth run-in for Cue Card.
One of his most formidable foes is Blaklion, a 7/1 entry who won last season's RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and further cemented his status as one of the top novice chasers in the country with a place in Aintree's Mildmay Novices Chase. In fact he hasn't finished outside the places since the end of 2014.
Another interesting entry in the race is The Last Samuri, who started the 2016 Grand National as a joint favourite, and finished second in that race. Look further than that run and you'll find that he's a fairly accomplished performer over 3 mile handicaps. He's put together a long string of places and victories under weights which suggest he'll give a fair account of himself against higher rated racehorses.
Finally, another former champion making an appearance in this race is Menorah, who won the Charlie Hall Chase in 2014. He's struggled to find consistent form since taking that win, recording just two more victories. While he's still carrying a top rating he's unlikely to win back this title against some great young horses and one of the top chasers in the country.
2016 Charlie Hall Chase tip
Both trends and reputation suggest that Cue Card should win this. However, Blaklion offers the better value at his price, as he'll pay out a bigger profit on an each-way bet if he places than the favourite will on the win. He's also more than capable of challenging for the title.