Wednesday 22 November 2017

Ready to rock with China

Mouse Morris. Photo: Tom Burke
Mouse Morris. Photo: Tom Burke

China Rock can become the first Irish horse for nine years to claim the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

Not since Sackville struck for Frances Crowley in 2001 has the Emerald Isle tasted victory in the West Yorkshire showpiece.

But County Tipperary handler Mouse Morris can bring to an end that statistic in the shape of this deeply progressive seven-year-old.

China Rock must concede weight to all bar ante-post favourite Deep Purple, but has the class to manfully offset 11st 10lb.

Morris' chaser is one of just a few horses in the line-up possessing match sharpness, which could be a defining argument when assessing potential winners for the Charlie Hall.

It is not as if he has enjoyed two pipe-openers, either, having pocketed Graded races at Gowran and Punchestown earlier in the month.

It was his display in the latter which generated the most fervour, however, as he slammed none other than Sizing Europe, who was admittedly ring-rusty, by seven lengths.

Although China Rock's form last year was good, with his second in Punchestown's Champion Novice Chase highlighting his aptitude for this trip, he has clearly made breakneck progress over the summer.

Moreover, it should be pointed out that the ground was pretty fast when he defeated Sizing Europe, which will again be the case here.

That is perhaps of more significant to many of his rivals, many of whom crave cut in the ground.

And as Ollie Magern has demonstrated over the years, positive tactics in this race are often rewarded.

China Rock made all of the running at Punchestown last time so certainly has that facet to his game in the locker.

Fair Along, meanwhile, can win back-to-back renewals of the John Smith's Hurdle.

Now is the time to polarise interest in the Philip Hobbs-trained eight-year-old, who tends to come alive at this time of year.

That was certainly the case 12 months ago when he jumped superbly before showing customary dash to land this Grade Two by a yawning 18 lengths.

Although he is perhaps susceptible to an up-and-coming animal, most of the protagonists in Yorkshire do not fall into that bracket.

Good ground, which looks a given in light of the forecast, will also play to his considerable strengths.

With Fair Along unlikely to be a threat against the likes of Big Buck's later this term, Hobbs is virtually guaranteed to have him fully wound-up on his first start since the Cheltenham Festival.

Newmarket's final meeting of the term sees a potential Derby contender return to the fray in the shape of Picture Editor.

Although the lump sum of what he has hitherto done on a racecourse is questionable, the unbeaten colt is clearly talented.

A good win at Doncaster on debut was supplemented by nothing more than a light canter in a three-runner Leicester conditions stakes earlier this month.

That success was achieved on desperate ground so any cut at Headquarters will not be an issue.

It would be a major surprise if his Classic aspirations go up in smoke in the 10-furlong bet365 Zetland Conditions Stakes.

Penitent can also dish out weight and a beating in the Listed bet365 James Seymour Stakes.

William Haggas' four-year-old thrives in the mud and had looked firmly on an upward curve before finishing second to Cityscape in the Joel Stakes.

Given the winner's lightly-raced profile, that was certainly no disaster.

Penitent has similarly few miles on the clock, though, and can neatly book-end his campaign here after having won the Lincoln at Doncaster way back in March.

It could be a good day for Haggas and owners Cheveley Park as Parvana should also shape creditably in the EBF Montrose Fillies' Stakes.

It took an age for Parvana to know what was expected of her on debut at Newbury - she eventually finished third behind two horses with previous experience - and looks a really nice prospect from from Somerville Lodge.

The feature race on a strong card at Ascot is the United House Gold Cup Handicap Chase, which could fall to Take The Breeze.

Paul Nicholls' inmate looks reasonably weighted off a mark of 145 and showed at Aintree in April that three miles and beyond now looks the way forward.

Press Association

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