Time is right for Rupert to strike
While having thrown up a couple of substandard winners in recent years, today's Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby goes a long way to redeeming the Grade Two's reputation.
A measure of the enhanced quality in this year's Bet365-sponsored contest is that Nacarat, a four-length winner 12 months ago, is as big as 6/1 fourth favourite today. With just one below-par outing to his name at Punchestown in May in the meantime, there are certainly worse each-way options in the eight-runner showpiece.
Last year's Hennessy victor Diamond Harry heads the market at a best-priced 5/2, having not raced since that excellent triumph on his seasonal bow in 2010. While Nick Williams' charge can clearly be readied at home, he faces a different sort of test here than when scoring under 10st at Newbury, and may be worth opposing.
Ruby Walsh could take plenty of beating on the top-rated Poquelin. Paul Nicholls' eight-year-old finished a fine fourth in the Ryanair Chase in March, before overcoming a couple of mistakes to score off a mark of 170 back at Cheltenham in April.
That kind of performance would make Poquelin a serious contender, but Time For Rupert is preferred on this occasion. A classy hurdler that finished second to Big Buck's in the 2010 World Hurdle, Paul Webber's gelding has had just three runs over fences.
Each of those outings came at Cheltenham, where he twice ran out a convincing winner in November and December, latterly stretching eight lengths clear of the Gordon Elliott-trained subsequent Festival hero Chicago Grey. That one re-opposes now, but it is Time For Rupert that remains open to the most progression.
Granted, he was disappointing when just fifth to Bostons Angel in the RSA Chase in March. However, he was later found to have burst a blood vessel, so a line can be drawn through that rare off day, and three miles on good ground here will suit ideally. With Time For Rupert's three main market rivals also having to concede weight to him, 3/1 looks a fair price about the Will Kennedy-ridden contender.
In the preceding John Smith's Hurdle, Elliott's Carlito Brigante is fancied to bounce back to form after a subdued showing at Dundalk three weeks ago.
Fair Along deserves plenty of respect as he bids for a third success in a row in this Grade Two, but Carlito Brigante is a horse that could still have his best days ahead of him. On official figures, he is actually seven pounds well in with Fair Along here.
An emphatic winner of the Coral Cup at Cheltenham, Carlito Brigante closed the season by finishing third to Quevega and Mourad at Punchestown. If he can build on that under Tom Scudamore now, the five-year-old could have a big season ahead.
At Ascot, Muirhead and Bideford Legend, the first two home in the Munster National, tackle the day's featured handicap, the United House Gold Cup. Golden Kite, which unseated when still in contention in the Limerick race, also takes his chance for Adrian Maguire, while Eoin Griffin saddles his 2009 winner of this, The Last Derby.
Off eight pounds better terms with Muirhead for a length-and-three-quarter defeat, Charles Byrnes' Bideford Legend has a chance of turning the tables with that one and the better ground is expected to suit. That said, it should also help Muirhead.
Rated 158 at his peak over flights, the former Grade One-winning hurdler has gone up no less than 15lbs for what was an effortless rout at Limerick. Still, that leaves him on just 147 here, so he could well have a little more in hand on just his fifth chasing start.
In the William Hill Hurdle, A Media Luz looks a steal at 7/1 under Barry Geraghty. The four-year-old's form tailed off last spring, but she showed real class previously.
Best Bet: Time For Rupert