A former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is running at Wetherby and a potential future winner is running at Down Royal. Coneygree is vying for favouritism for the Charlie Hall Chase while Our Duke is the odds-on favourite to win the Jwine.com Champion Chase. Cue Card and Road To Respect could upset the apple cart and spoil the double. Blaklion and More Of That are the each-way alternatives in the two races.
The jumps season moves up a gear this weekend with major races on both sides of the Irish Sea. Our Duke could be the best horse running in Britain and Ireland and that says something with Coneygree and Cue Card in action. All roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival in March when Coneygree and Our Duke could be in the Gold Cup mix. There are major Saturday races now every week until the New Year.
The Charlie Hall Chase is Wetherby’s biggest jumps race and often attracts Gold Cup horses or the leading novices from the previous season. It is a conditions race run over three miles and there are 18 fences to be jumped. Six horses have won the race two times but there is no three-time winner. The leading jockeys with three wins have retired and Gordon Richards and Nigel-Twiston Davies have trained four winners. Former winners include Silviniaco Conti (2012) and Cue Card (2015).
Coneygree was the first novice to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for 40 years when running his rivals ragged in 2015. Injuries have blighted his career since then and the horse has only run three times in the last two years. However, Coneygree’s last effort was outstanding in that he only went down by one and a half lengths to Sizing John and Djakadam in the Punchestown Gold Cup. The horse was not fluent at the last after rallying and just missed out.
Cue Card has fallen in the last two Gold Cups so maybe the horse is destined not to win the race. Connections are now considering the Ryanair Chase at the festival, a race Cue Card won in 2013. The horse will be 12 next March and although the trainer reports he is as good as ever beating younger horses in the Gold Cup now looks beyond him. Cue Card could go down as one of the best chasers not to win the race.
He beat Coneygree by 15 lengths in the Betfair Chase last November but the beaten horse had not run for over a year. Coneygree is tipped to win the Charlie Hall Chase this time especially as rain as eased the ground. Blaklion has the form to make the payout places and could win the National this season after finishing fourth in the race in April when looking the most likely winner for much of the race.
Our Duke had a fine season despite not running at Cheltenham. That was a conscious decision that was justified in the Irish Grand National in April. Carrying 11 stones four pounds Our Duke was always amongst the leaders, led before four fences from the finish and was driven clear to win easily. The horse entered the Gold Cup picture that day and can consolidate his prospects by winning at Down Royal.
More Of That is entered in both feature races and can be placed in which ever he contests. The former World Hurdle winner was running a huge race in the Irish Gold Cup in February won by Sizing John when falling at the last. That level of form gives the horse place chances in either race but the win double should be Coneygree and Our Duke which pays over 9/4.