Calgary Bay can sink older rivals
This afternoon's Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby promises to be an informative affair, with a couple of promising young chasers set to tackle a bunch of more seasoned campaigners for the prestigious early-season prize.
Last year's winner Deep Purple bids to give Evan Williams a third successive triumph in the race, while Ollie Magern, victorious in 2005 and 2007, goes for his hat-trick at the age of 12. In a renewal that lacks a potential star, both horses have their chance.
Barbers Shop, Nacarat and The Tother One are other well-known names that feature prominently in the betting, with Barbers Shop, the mount of Barry Geraghty, expected to start favourite. While each of that trio has it within their capabilities to land the Grade Two, none of them are overly reliable, so it can pay to give youth a chance.
Knockara Beau and Calgary Bay are, at seven, the youngest in the three-miler, and both are available to back at attractive prices. On the basis of his consistent performances in the best of company as a novice last season, Knockara Beau is probably the better long-term prospect of the two.
However, Calgary Bay has the benefit of a recent run, and that might just give Henrietta Knight's horse the edge. Traditionally, Knight's horses come on for their seasonal debut, and Calgary Bay certainly looked in need of the outing at Cheltenham two weeks ago.
Under top weight in a fair handicap on that occasion, he was running a blinder until they met the rising ground in the straight, from which point he tired into fifth behind Midnight Chase. While the form on its own might not be too exciting, it must be taken in context, and it's reasonable to assume that Calgary Bay will strip fitter now.
If he does -- and he progressed massively from a poor reappearance to win smoothly on his second start at Doncaster last year -- he represents excellent value at up to 9/1. Subsequent to his Doncaster win, Calgary Bay performed with real credit to take sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and fourth in the Totesport Bowl at Aintree, form that would entitle him to have a big say here.
In the John Smith's Hurdle that precedes the big race, Geraghty is booked to ride Duc De Regniere, a more appealing Nicky Henderson-trained favourite. This one is reverting to hurdles, having finished in the spring with a successive pair of wins over fences.
Also successful on his seasonal debut over the bigger obstacles, those latter victories meant that the eight-year-old was three from three in chases in 2009/10, but he also did well over flights. In the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, he was third to Big Bucks, before he found only one too good in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton.
Few of Duc De Regniere's seven opponents today offer such a consistent profile. At around 5/2, he doesn't look short and it's worth noting he has scored on three of his last four reappearances, so he goes particularly well fresh.
In the United House Gold Cup at Ascot, Carruthers returns under a big weight. Just pipped for third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Mattie Batchelor's front-running partner was subsequently second to What A Friend at Aintree, but this will be tough.
Preferred is Take The Breeze, a smart novice for Paul Nicholls last term. A four-time winner over fences, the seven-year-old held his own in good company throughout the season, and didn't run badly off close to top-weight in the Jewson Chase in March. Take The Breeze is three pounds lower now, yet he still has scope to improve.
Get Me Out Of Here, runner-up to Menorah in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, is another that must concede weight on its reappearance in the Williamhill.com Hurdle. Nonetheless, Jonjo O'Neill's charge looks a class above his 11 rivals. Also at Ascot, the talented Othermix may finally have been found a winnable opportunity in the beginners' chase.
Best bet: Duc De Regniere