Charlie Hall Chase: Last chance saloon for Harry

Diamond Harry tends to run best fresh

Timeform's Tony McFadden has taken an ante-post look at Saturday's Charlie Hall Chase...

"It is probably no coincidence that his most impressive efforts have come when fresh, his Fixed Brush Hurdle and Hennessey successes, both from the high-class Burton Port, leaving an indelible stamp on the mind..."

Once upon a time you may have perused the entries for the Charlie Hall Chase and found yourself disappointed that the Gold Cup or King George winner had not been entered. Nowadays you find yourself crestfallen that doughty old stayer Ollie Magern won't be running. Whilst Ollie Magern is undoubtedly a popular horse, it probably says more about the race and how far it has fallen down the list of trainers' priorities that he regularly featured as the star turn.

However, even allowing for the decline in quality, the Charlie Hall still provides a fantastic curtain-raiser for the jumps season, offering a welcome change in proceedings for National Hunt aficionados.

Part of the attraction with these jumps horses is that you become familiar with them and their habits. Year after year they keep coming back, offering you another opportunity to learn a bit more about them, understand what their ideal conditions are, when they are at their most effective. All of this providing useful information to take to war with against the bookies. Well, that is the theory, but, let's be honest, how many of us really know what is going on with Diamond Harry?

Very smart as a hurdler and a top-class chaser at his best, Diamond Harry produced his best effort in the 2010 Hennessey, defeating a host of useful rivals in what is invariably one of the most competitive handicaps of the season, looking like he might develop into a legitimate Gold Cup contender. Sadly, Diamond Harry has failed to build on that marvellously promising effort, looking like a pale incarnation of himself last year, failing to make an impact in the four races he contested, albeit all at an exalted level.

Making excuses for horses can turn into a frustrating and expensive venture, but, when a horse produces a performance as impressive as Diamond Harry managed, it is difficult to deny yourself that luxury. Fragility has always been the stumbling point for the Nick Williams-trained gelding, and he was handled with aplomb in the early stages of his career, allowed time to mature, develop and build up an enviable strike-rate. It is probably no coincidence that his most impressive efforts have come when fresh, his Fixed Brush Hurdle and Hennessey successes, both from the high-class Burton Port, leaving an indelible stamp on the mind.

His efforts last term were entirely more forgettable, but (here's the excuse) he had a tough race on his reappearance behind Kauto Star and Long Run in the Betfair Chase, actually shaping quite well for much of the way, however, with his ever-increasing frailty, it is possible he never fully recovered from those exertions. It would take some training performance to get him back to his peak, but if there is a man capable it is probably his excellent trainer Nick Williams, who recently sent out For Non Stop to secure a victory in the Old Roan Chase in devastating style.

As you can probably tell, I am quite keen to give Diamond Harry another chance, or, should I say, give him another chance at the prices. Clearly there is every possibility that he will never live up to the heights he once threatened, but, trading at 9.08/1, I cannot pass up the opportunity to back a fresh Diamond Harry against inferior rivals.

A horse with a similar profile to Diamond Harry is Weird Al, an impressive winner of this race last year for new trainer Donald McCain. His form also tailed off as the season progressed, culminating in a fall in the Grand National, looking none too keen before he departed. Clearly a return to regulation fences should suit, as should the summer break, but he perhaps doesn't offer outstanding value, trading at 6.611/2.

One contender certainly worth mentioning is the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti. His novice chase campaign can be seen as a resounding success, signing off with an authoritative victory at Aintree, drawing clear having jumped impeccably. He enters this race with very few questions to answer, something which cannot be said about the majority of his rivals, and his claims are obvious. Unfortunately, his claims are so clear that they have not been missed in the betting market, currently trading at 3.613/5, a price that makes limited appeal at this ante-post stage.

Another novice that made a striking impression last year was First Lieutenant, once again primed to produce his best at the Cheltenham Festival, this time finding one too good as Bobs Worth stayed on stronger up the hill to claim the RSA chase. He looked very laboured on his return at Gowran Park and will surely come on significantly for the run, but, given how he has been campaigned with his season revolving around Cheltenham, you have to ask the question: will he be at the top of his game?

It would be remiss not to touch upon the chances of Planet of Sound, last seen racing enthusiastically at the head of affairs in the Grand National, shaping better than the distance beaten would suggest. His stable have started the season in good form, notably claiming a 1-2-3 in a valuable Chepstow handicap hurdle last week, and it would come as little surprise were Planet of Sound primed to launch a bold bid.

I have already stated my bold, perhaps foolish, intention to side with Diamond Harry at the prices on offer. It is undoubtedly a risk as there was more than one occasion where it looked as if his innate fragility had finally beaten him, but racing fresh has always been the key to this horse and conditions should be ideal on Saturday. Those favouring a safer play could do worse than backing Planet of Sound, a winner at the highest level who tends to jump and travel well.

Back Diamond Harry @ [9.0} in the Charlie Hall Chase

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