By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
The Charlie Hall Chase is one of the early National Hunt season highlights. The race itself is named after National Hunt trainer Charlie Hall and his biggest win was in the 1958 Champion Hurdle with a horse named Doorknocker. Also, he won the 1948 Scottish Grand National with Magnetic Fin so, in a way, it is fitting that the 2021 Scottish Grand National Winner, Mighty Thunder, lines up in this grade two chase.
However, favouritism lies with Cyrname for trainer Paul Nicholls, owner Mrs Johnny De La Hay and jockey Harry Cobden. In 2020, Cyrname was a leading player for this race, but all of the discussion beforehand had been about whether he would handle going left-handed. All of his best performances had occurred when he raced at right-handed tracks like Kempton and Ascot. Another weakness Cyrname seemingly had was that he was coming into the race off the back of a nasty fall at Ascot in February 2020. There were no signs of any worries from the horse as he jumped boldly and was full of life. He asserted impressively and Cobden only had to give him as shake of the reins to go and win the race.
However, everything went wrong in Cyrname’s season after that success. In the King George, he over-jumped on a few occasions and, arguably, the front runners went a bit too slow to truly benefit him. He cruised into the race, travelling better than most, but he reached at one of the obstacles and lost ground quickly. Cobden never asked him any serious questions after that and pulled up. The race panned out similarly in the Ascot Chase in February, although they changed tactics and popped him out into the lead. With his exuberant jumping style, he can tend to just have to reach for a fence if the stride he takes off on is too long. One example of this just put him off balance and made him vulnerable to the challenges of the other runners. Dashel Drasher loomed past, Master Tommytucker went with him, Benny’s King got himself into the race but Cyrname began to go backwards. He dragged his hind legs through three out and Cobden dropped his hands, easing him out of the race.
The official reason given was that Cyrname had made a respiratory noise and he has had a wind operation over the summer. Hopefully, this will help him to finish out his race like he didn’t do last season. In 2019 and 2020, he won first time out and he will be fit and raring to go. It is fair to expect that he will be fresh in running and it will be interesting to see how they chose to run him – whether they let him gallop along in front using that lovely big stride of his or they hold him up to ease into the race.
Paul Nicholls vs Nicky Henderson will be one of the main narratives this season, as always, and Henderson is represented by Fusil Raffles, ridden by Daryl Jacob in the double-green of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. After starting out early last season with wins over fences at Uttoxeter and Cheltenham, Fusil Raffles pulled up at the latter track in November with the ground (good to soft but considered softer) to blame. However, he did manage to win on officially soft ground at Cheltenham a month later over two and a half miles so maybe he had an off-day in November.
Fusil Raffles had a break and returned to Cheltenham for the Marsh Novices Chase, where he finished second by three lengths to stablemate Chantry House. At Aintree, he looked like something was amiss when pulled up sharply. He burst a blood vessel, but it was nothing serious as we have already seen him out this season. He went to Newton Abbot on 10th October where he carried 11st6lbs compared to Bravemansgame’s 10st8lbs. He was beaten five and a half lengths by the promising novice. This was over two miles five and it remains to be seen whether he’ll stay three miles. He’s only young and remains a good prospect. If it rains, the ground could go against him.
Dan Skelton is a force to be reckoned with against Henderson and Nicholls this season and I was lucky enough to visit his yard recently. Read about it here – https://reinitinracing.wordpress.com/2021/10/13/dan-skelton-racing-visit/. Shan Blue is Dan’s representative here with his brother Harry on board for owner Colm Donlon. He was one of the flag bearers for the yard last season. Over fences, he has really flourished, winning his first two races over the bigger obstacles by fourteen and sixteen lengths respectively. This earned him favouritism for the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, which he won in smart style. Next time, he ran in the Scilly Isles, which was an odd race and he came second after hanging left up the run-in. In the Marsh, he was fifth, meaning he has eight lengths to make up with Fusil Raffles, who carries 3lbs less in this race. He was twenty more lengths behind Chantry House at Aintree and he was undesirably keen. He will have to settle much better to last the three-mile trip here. He is an exciting young horse moving into open company.
Lucinda Russell’s Mighty Thunder was actually a novice last season but only raced in that company three times, winning two chases at the beginning of the season under Blair Campbell, who has made an excellent partnership with the horse. Unfortunately, it appears as though he’s still injured so Derek Fox, Grand National winning jockey, will ride Mighty Thunder. He had an off day at Kelso in December but absolutely romped in at Musselburgh in the Edinburgh National over four miles and a furlong. On just his fourth start over fences, he had twenty-four fences to negotiate and he won by twenty lengths. Next time, he was only denied a length in the Midlands’ National before putting in a brave performance to keep the Scottish Grand National trophy in Scotland. I get the impression that connections have only just really realised how good he actually is. He’s in my 20 To Watch but I never expected him to run in this race. He’s done a lot of racing but, despite this, he is still unexposed over fences. It is great to see a ‘National’ horse run in this grade two. He could take the race along on the front end and make it a proper stamina test. Most likely, he will be one of the outsiders but he’s a lovely eight-year-old and should put in a bold bid.
Kitty’s Light is just five years old and began his chasing career with a win aged four at Southwell last August. He followed that up by finishing second and winning at Warwick and Exeter before a sensational run in the Badger Beers, finishing like a train. After this, he was third and fourth in two ‘jumpers’ bumpers’ and finished seventh in a handicap hurdle. When returning to fences, he won at Kelso by a neck to Didero Vallis and was second in the bet365 Handicap Chase on the final day of the season in April. At Chepstow a few weeks ago, Didero Vallis reversed the form over three miles, whilst carrying 10lbs less than Kitty’s Light. It was a good weight carrying performance and it should put him spot on for this. By Nathaniel, he is an ultra-consistent performer and good on Christian Williams for running him. This would be the biggest win of the trainer’s career to date. It is a great opportunity for young rider Jack Tudor too.
There are three nine-year-olds in the race and they are the three highest rated. Cyrname obviously tops the group at 168 but Clondaw Castle is next in at 159 and Top Ville Ben at 156. Tom George’s Clondaw Castle was remarkably consistent last season. He started out finishing second to Nuts Well in the Old Roan Chase before winning a competitive Newbury handicap on Ladbrokes Trophy weekend. Subsequently, he was third and second in grade twos. At Kempton after this, he won incredibly well over three miles beating a quality field. Connections tried him in grade one company for his final start of the campaign and he didn’t disgrace himself at all. Even though he was beaten twenty-six lengths by Clan Des Obeaux, he still beat home Native River and Tiger Roll. Tom George hasn’t had many fancied runners of late and Johnny Burke is riding well.
Top Ville Ben completes the field for Philip Kirby and Tommy Dowson, who rode him to win the grade three Rowland Meyrick over course and distance in 2019. He beat Didero Vallis by eight lengths that day, which ties his form in with Kitty’s Light, and he must be such fun to own for the Harbour Rose Partnership. After that win, he was beaten thirty-three lengths by Santini in the Cotswold Chase. After a long absence, he ran in France in the Prix Leon Rambaud, a grade two hurdle, and pulled up, 188 days ago. He was fifth in the Charlie Hall in 2019 and he has raced at Wetherby four times and won two of them. His best run was finishing third, beaten three and a half lengths by Lostintranslation and Topofthegame, in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase of 2019. On that form, he has a good shout, but he has a bit to find.
This is a really competitive seven runner affair. Cyrname is definitely the most likely winner but, in the back of my mind, I’m questioning his reliability. His last two runs were worryingly poor. Wind operations can work wonders and I think by fancying him for this race, you’re relying on it working. I’m going to side with CLONDAW CASTLE as I think he was really impressive last season with his consistency and he won some very smart handicaps. So, races like this are just the logical step in this horse’s progression. I don’t pay much attention to betting odds but he looks a more favourable choice than Cyrname in those terms. Obviously, I’ll be cheering on my 20 To Watch horse Mighty Thunder to be a shock winner as the outsider of the field!