The competitiveness of this year's staying chase division is a mouth-watering prospect for National Hunt fans, who over the next month or so are going to see all of the would-be challengers stake their claim for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. The Charlie Hall is unlikely to come with quite the same anticipation attached as will the Betfair Chase or the Hennessy, though that's a positive reflection on those races rather than a black mark against Saturday's big chase.
This year's Charlie Hall, this year run over a distance of three miles and 45 yards after last year it triggered our investigation that ultimately led to the re-measuring of all UK jumps courses, could be the potential starting place for a host of Grade 1 names, including Cue Card, Dynaste and Holywell, as well as Grand National winner Many Clouds.
Starting place is the salient term in many cases here. Both David Pipe-trained entrants, Dynaste and Ballynagour, have alternate entries over the weekend, while it's unlikely that either Many Clouds (ahead of his Hennessy defence) or Holywell (who tends to come to life in the spring) will be at fighting weight for this seasonal reappearance.
It's reported that Dynaste may well run, though, and there's a compelling case to be made for him from a ratings perspective as, winless last season, he avoids any sort of penalty in this race- after finishing second in the King George, he was denied the chance to defend his Ryanair Chase crown at last year's Cheltenham Festival due to picking up a leg injury in late-January. A recent spin over hurdles at Auteuil, where he ran as well as can be expected over an inadequate trip, will have blown away any cobwebs, and Dynaste looks set to run a big race on Saturday. The crux of course is just where that will be. He is also entered in the Grade 1 JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, which is a prize that's often there for the taking. The appeal of taking in a prestigious Grade 2 unpenalised will no doubt appeal to his trainer, but we're not going to back Dynaste on that basis.
Another to have escaped any sort of penalty is last season's Melling Chase runner-up Cue Card. In truth, it looks as though we will not see Cue Card at his top-class best again after a succession of injuries, but he still deserves plenty of respect back at this level, having run his best race of last term on his final start, when fourth in the Grade 1 Punchestown Gold Cup. As with Dynaste, back Cue Card and we would be guessing- this time about how much ability he retains and how ready he is to show it in late-October. There is an alternative over which there would appear to be very few unknowns.
Last year this race was won by Menorah, who saw off some talented younger horses that day before going on to post a career-best effort when second behind Silviniaco Conti in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase. Although Menorah is now nearing 11, he is showing no signs of decline, and he makes plenty of appeal at the prices here as a confirmed runner who is very capable fresh- as he was when he came here last year.
Menorah represents a sound ante-post bet. Currently available at 7/1, he'd likely be shorter on the day even should Dynaste show up, though admittedly he could struggle to give 10lbs to a horse he looked quite closely-matched with at level weights last year. If Dynaste doesn't run, Menorah could easily go off favourite or at least thereabouts and, at current prices, that makes him well worth chancing.
Back Menorah in the Charlie Hall Chase