Charlie Hall Preview: The O'Neill charge starts here

The Charlie Hall Chase takes place at Wetherby
The Charlie Hall Chase takes place at Wetherby

Joe Rendall picks out a win bet and an each-way fancy for Saturday's big race over jumps, the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

"At Timeform we believe the way in which Taquin du Seuil has shaped both at Haydock (21 furlongs, heavy ground) and when last seen winning the JLT suggested he shouldn’t have a problem with the step up in trip."

The wait is over. Although this week's spell of unseasonably warm weather will make it a little harder to banish thoughts of the turf season from your mind, the Charlie Hall meeting at Wetherby means the National Hunt season is finally back. It has delivered an underwhelming start to the jumps season proper on more than one occasion in recent times, but not so this year. Jonjo O'Neill, a heavy investor in young horses over the summer months and a genuine contender for the Champion Trainer's title, takes the rugs off two of his most exciting prospects in More of That and Taquin du Seuil. It is the latter-named which we will concentrate on as he tackles three miles for the first time in the feature contest.

The trip is really the main question when assessing Taquin du Seuil's chances for Saturday's race. It's not necessarily if he will stay the 25-furlong trip, but whether it will bring about the requisite improvement he'll need to get the better of Silviniaco Conti and the rest. Those suggesting Taquin du Seuil won't get the extra distance will most likely point to his tendency to travel strongly, but that trait has subsided slightly as he has grown older and become accustomed to life over fences. 

At Timeform we believe the way in which Taquin du Seuil has shaped both at Haydock (21 furlongs, heavy ground) and when last seen winning the JLT suggested he shouldn't have a problem with the step up in trip. His Cheltenham victory put a long-held theory he was better on soft going to the sword too, another positive given we're likely to get something in the region of good ground on Saturday. 

The doubters may point to his underwhelming reappearance at Newton Abbot three weeks ago, but it could have some welcome effects. The first is on Taquin du Seuil's fitness. It may be that he was slightly more in need of the run that connections would have expected, but he will strip a lot fitter for it and it may even give him an edge on those having their first outings of the season. The second is his price, as you can be sure he'd be at least half the odds of those currently available if he'd come straight here as a Festival winner. Add in to the mix he'll be re-united with regular jockey AP McCoy, and at 7.06/1 he looks the outstanding bet in the race. 

There is, however, a fairly sizeable obstacle in the way in the shape of King George winner Silviniaco Conti. Winner of this race two years ago and twice victorious in Grade 1 company last season, it is fairly obvious that he sets a clear standard on form and deserves to be favourite. He's well clear on Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings, even in concession of weight to the vast majority of his rivals. There's also the fact that all his best form has come on flat tracks, which Wetherby most certainly is. Why, then, are we looking anywhere else?

The first reason is that Silviniaco Conti will have to concede 5 lb to Taquin du Seuil who is completely unexposed over this trip. That will be no mean feat if he pulls it off. The second is a more general concern regarding the wellbeing of Paul Nicholls' string, with some looking a lot fitter than others first time up. Despite bullish reports from Ditcheat, just how much he'll need the run is a major concern for backers, especially once it's considered that he has a more significant engagement in the Betfair Chase three weeks hence. Therefore 2.747/4 looks far too short for an ante-post proposition when you take the above caveats into consideration.

There are plenty of others who merit discussion on their best form, but as is usually the case with these early-season graded races, fitness will have a big say in the result. First Lieutenant has the least to find with Silvinaco Conti on adjusted Timeform figures and aside from the fact it seems in his nature to always find one or two too good, he has usually needed his first run of the season and doesn't appeal at 4/1. 

Menorah was last seen making his belated Flat debut at Sandown, but he carries the maximum penalty for winning a listed race over jumps at the same track back in April and as a result may find this task beyond him.

The Giant Bolster would be a threat on his best form but he tends to save that for the big days and it is unlikely David Bridgwater will have him fully firing first time up. He also shoulders 11st 10lb and doesn't appeal as a betting proposition as a result. 

The one who could run well at big price is Medermit, who represents an Alan King stable which is in red-hot form. He has an excellent record fresh and only has four lengths to find on First Lieutenant based on his run at the Punchestown Festival last season. Given he's available at four times the odds, those looking for an each-way play in the race could do a lot worse than to keep him on side at 16/1.

Providing the market principals take their chance it's fair to say this will be one of the more compelling renewals of the Charlie Hall. With the young improving chaser taking on the established star, it whets the appetite for the innumerable enthralling clashes that are set to come as the season gathers momentum. If Taquin du Seuil can realise his potential as a possible Gold Cup contender we even have a decent bet in prospect. 

Recommended bets:

Back Taquin du Seuil to win and Medermit win and place in the Charlie Hall

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