The £100,000 Charlie Hall Steeplechase at Wetherby is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and influential early season trials for top-quality chasers as they set out on the season long road to the Cheltenham Festival with the very live possibility of running in the Gold Cup itself.


Charlie Hall Chase 2019: Contenders

The 12 entries this year include the 2018 scorer Definitly Red (Brian Ellison), who would become the first dual winner since Ollie Magern (2005 & 2007).

Malton handler Ellison is enjoying a purple patch of form at the moment with his latest big race success coming just last Sunday when Forest Bihan took the Old Roan Chase at Aintree.

Ellison’s stable star got the better of the Paul Nicholls-trained Black Corton in this race last year and the stage is all set for another showdown between the pair of them at the Yorkshire track.

Last year’s Welsh Grand National victor Elegant Escape (Colin Tizzard) has been vying for favouritism all week and understandably so.

Elegant Escape is aiming to give trainer Colin Tizzard a second Charlie Hall Chase, following Cue Card’s success in 2015.

Having filled the runner-up spot in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury earlier in the campaign, Elegant Escape followed up his Welsh National triumph by finishing second to Frodon in the Cotswold Chase and ran a reasonable sixth behind Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Tizzard is of the view that if he can improve six or eight pounds he could be their Gold Cup contender this season so all eyes will be on his performance on Saturday.

Black Corton (Paul Nicholls) finished second to Definitly Red in last season’s Charlie Hall after surviving a horrendous third fence blunder, and will be bidding to go one better this time.

However, Nicholls is due to make a late call upon his participation and he may head to Ascot instead for the Sodexo Gold Cup.

Should the eight-year-old take up his West Yorkshire date he should not be inconvenienced by carrying joint-top weight after proving in can do so in the Galway Plate at the end of July.

He will once again be partnered by Bryony Frost and the pair get along like a house on fire.

Aso (Venetia Williams) has yet to win beyond two miles and five furlongs but has looked like a stayer all along. The nine-year-old posted a career-best when he went down on his sword behind Frodon in a ding-dong climax to the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham.

The popular mare La Bague Au Roi (Warren Greatrex) is sure to have her supporters after a stunning 2018/19 season and she can most certainly mix it with the boys in this.

Victorious in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton last Boxing Day when beating the useful Topofthegame, she was just denied completing a season five-timer by Kalashnikov at the Grand National meeting.

Wetherby is a fair test for young horses and if she gets into a good early rhythm she may prove difficult to peg back.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ballyoptic will certainly have fitness on his side after he stoically carried top-weight to victory at Chepstow on October 12. Twiston-Davies is the most successful trainer in the history of the Charlie Hall Chase, winning it five times.

Stamina will not be an issue for the nine-year-old as his second place in the 2018 Scottish Grand National so proved.

Should the Jessica Harrington-trained Jett be successful, he would become the first Irish-trained winner since Sackville in 2001.

The eight-year-old relished the step up in trip on his latest start when upsetting the odds (and a posse of Gigginstown runners) by beating Alpha Des Obeaux by a short-head in the Irish Daily Star Chase at Punchestown.

North Yorkshire-trainer Philip Kirby will be represented in the race by Top Ville Ben who is a young horse going places.

The seven-year-old enjoyed plenty of success last season, winning three times in novice company with two of those wins coming over three miles at Wetherby.

His best performance of the season came in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree in April when he finished a fine third to Lostintranslation, after making most of the running.

Double Shuffle (Tom George) will be hoping for a change of fortune in the Charlie Hall after missing the race in 2017 due to traffic problems, then suffering an uncharacteristic first fence fall last year.

Chase wins have been hard to come by for the nine-year-old, scoring just twice from 22 attempts, but he is clearly talented on his day as his runner-up spot to Might Bite in the 2017 King George VI Chase showed us.

The Kim Bailey-trained Vinndication has three entries this weekend so it remains to be seen just where he turns up.

After winning his first two starts over fences Vinndication came up just short in two Grade One races, most recently finishing fifth in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old has however had a wind operation since the end of last season and Bailey is confident he will get a three mile trip this year.

Molly The Dolly (Dan Skelton) along with La Bague Au Roi and Atlanta Ablaze all receive a mare’s allowance and Skelton believes his eight-year-old is at her best when fresh.

She was an impressive winner in handicap company at the Scottish Grand National meeting and her upward curve could well continue at Wetherby.

Atlanta Ablaze (Henry Daly) will have to brush up her jumping considerably if she is to figure in this but she can be quite useful on her day.

She was in the process of running a big race in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase at The Festival when falling two out so she cannot be completely written off here.


Charlie Hall Chase 2019: Conclusion

This is one of the most open Charlie Hall Chase’s in recent years and a case can be made for all twelve runners.

The most recent authoritative form line for me however is the proximity of Top Ville Ben to Lostintranslation and Topofthegame at Aintree and I shall be siding with the Harbour Rose Partnership-owned runner.

888sport suggests: Top Ville Ben (e/w).

About the Author
Steve Mullington

Steven is a sports and horse racing enthusiast and is a member of the Horseracing Writers and Photographers Association (HWPA) in the United Kingdom.

He is a regular visitor to Paris Longchamp for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and a lifelong fan of the Aintree Grand National, a subject he writes about 52 weeks of the year. Last year he reached the impressive milestone of attending the last 30 renewals of the Grand National.