Tony Calvin: Card looks on Cue to land another Charlie Hall

Cue Card looks to have a straightforward task in Saturday's Charlie Hall Chase
Cue Card looks to have a straightforward task in Saturday's Charlie Hall Chase

The National Hunt season looks to be back in full swing with no fewer than five ante-post races available to bet on at the weekend, and here our man Tony Calvin runs the rule over all of them...


"If it did rain at Wetherby, though, Silsol would be a massive price at 13.012/1, so keep an eye on the weather for him."

There are five ante-post races on the Exchange and Betfair Sportsbook to peruse over this weekend, but the bane of the punters' lot - accurate running plans - are thin on the ground.

One of the certainties, fitness and well-being permitted, is that Cue Card will be an odds-on poke if he gets to the starting line in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby on Saturday afternoon.

The return of 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree in the race could have been a big stumbling block to Cue Card following up his win in this contest last season, but he was officially scratched from the race on Tuesday, and Cue Card clearly now has a major class edge over his other rivals.

In fact, he has 14lb in hand of the next highest-rated horse, Menorah, so little wonder he trades at around the 1.75/7 mark on the exchange.

He may have been well below-par when we last saw him at Punchestown in April, but were it not for his fall three out when still full of running in the Gold Cup then he could easily have been unbeaten in his five previous starts. And they included this race, the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Betfred Bowl; not a bad 2015-16 CV.

He reportedly impressed his in-form trainer in a recent racecourse gallop, and it is hard to see his colours being lowered, even if he is a 10yo going on 11.


Silsol looks big so pray for rain


The West Yorkshire Hurdle is a far more interesting betting race - if we knew what was going to turn up.

Ballyoptic heads the market after having won the Grade 1 at Aintree last season and at Chepstow on his return, after which connections immediately namechecked this race. Always a positive sign in my book when long-term plans come together.

He is clearly progressive but is only rated 152 and he has to give 4lb to three horses officially his superior, most notably Silsol. The last named would actually be 10lb worse off with the favourite if this race were a handicap, so he is very much the form horse.

That horse probably needs rain to run, however - though he has fair form on good ground such as when second to stablemate Ptit Zig at Sandown in April - and it looks like his trainer Paul Nicholls is set to rely on Saphir Dh Rheu (who is entered in the Charlie Hall, and at Ascot) to judge from owner Andy Stewart's comments in the press on Tuesday.

If it did rain at Wetherby, though, Silsol would be a massive price at 13.012/1, so keep an eye on the weather for him. He doesn't hold any other entries this weekend, too, so maybe Nicholls could go into the race two-handed, anyway, even on good going.

It is a tricky race, though, with 154-rated chaser Native River, and the progressive Unowhatimeanharry other obvious threats.


Hadrian could be the Sodexo Gold Cup Approach


There are some competitive handicaps at Ascot, notably the £100k Sodexo Gold Cup. There are 30 entries in the race but only six are jocked up at the moment, and again it is difficult to know what will run.

Nicholls has a strong hand with Southfield Theatre and Saphir Du Rheu (should he take up this one of his three weekend entries) but the one that would interest me at 14-1 if given the go-ahead is Hadrian's Approach.

The handicapper has given him a real chance off 141 - he won the 365 Gold Cup off a 5lb higher mark here in 2014 - and I like the idea of him being given a prominent ride over this 3m trip on ground he is thought to enjoy by connections.

He doesn't have any other weekend entries, either, but I just don't know if he is an intended runner and there isn't quite enough juice in the price to tempt me in at this stage.


Worthy favourites but Mole could pop up in the Handicap Chase


Hollywoodien heads the betting for the Byrne Group HandicapChase and that seems fair enough but the handicapper has given Mr Mole a fighting chance here on his debut for Ben Haslam after leaving Nicholls.

He has been dropped 10lb since last season to 150 which allows him to get into this handicap off the ceiling mark, and he is the kind of horse who could easily have been sweetened up by a change of scenery and outclass these.

But he is also entered at Wetherby on Friday, so who knows what engagement he will take up.

The other race priced up is the handicap hurdle just shy of 2m and Ch' Tibello is the predictable favourite. He has a lot going for him, which is why early Tuesday quotes of 11-2 are a distant memory and he is around 3-1 at the time of writing.

So powder dry until the weekend, it is.


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