The feature race at Wetherby this Saturday is the 3m Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase (15:40), and La Bague Au Roi appeals most as she’s unexposed over fences at this staying trip.
Trained by Warren Greatrex, the eight-year-old mare won four of her five chase starts in a stellar novice campaign last term.
La Bague Au Roi is also a course hurdles winner, but was always bred to come into her own in this sphere.
This daughter of Doctor Dino took to fences like a duck to water, outjumping and outstaying subsequent Grade 1 winner Lostintranslation on reappearance at Newbury 12 months ago.
La Bague Au Roi then followed-up in the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices’ Chase at the Winter Carnival, beating subsequent Sandown Grade 3 handicap winner Talkischeap by seven lengths.
She landed the hat-trick and Grade 1 glory in the 3m Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day, when lowering the colours of subsequent RSA Chase hero Topofthegame and the highly-regarded Santini.
As La Bague Au Roi was headed three out and showed guts to battle back, it was a terrific display sealed in game fashion after a magnificent leap at the last.
She followed-up when back down in distance for a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Although then turned over in the Manifesto at Aintree, the sharp and flat track was against La Bague Au Roi.
The step back up to 3m is an obvious plus and she continues to get a sex allowance from the boys.
As that is only partially offset by the half-penalty for her novice exploits, La Bague Au Roi who goes well fresh has to be fancied at 11/4 with Unibet for this.
Last year’s Charlie Hall Chase winner Definitly Red faces big ask
This renewal looks hotter than 12 months ago when Definitly Red profited from mistakes by Black Corton and an early fall from Double Shuffle.
Trained in Yorkshire by Brian Ellison, the 10-year-old is the oldest in the line-up. He is also one of three course and distance winners, but looks vulnerable despite Wetherby chase form figures of 2131.
This Definite Article gelding is eight from 20 over fences and has also placed on five other occasions. He also carries top-weight in this year’s Charlie Hall Chase.
While that means Definitly Red meets the runner-up to 3lb better terms, on adjusted ratings, this looks a taller order than 12 months ago.
Improving, younger sorts are a worry for supporters of Definitly Red but he is still respected at this level.
That is because he has won his last four Grade 2 starts and odds of 9/2 with William Hill reflect that.
Molly The Dolly, meanwhile, is at the foot of the weights and connections are hopeful of a big run.
Trained by Dan Skelton, this eight-year-old mare is unexposed over fences after just four starts in this sphere.
She has won three of those, but this requires a step up on such efforts in minor events.
Skelton was the top trainer at Wetherby in each of the last two seasons, however, and his runners command respect at this West Yorkshire venue as a result.
With more improvement to come and her third behind subsequent Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light reading well, Molly The Dolly is a 12/1 outsider with Ladbrokes for the Charlie Hall Chase.
That’s because she has the most to find on ratings in the seven-runner field.
National horses Ballyoptic and Elegant Escape interesting
Course and distance winner Ballyoptic resumed winning ways at Chepstow on reappearance and comes into the Charlie Hall Chase fit.
That makes the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained nine-year-old of interest after a largely luckless campaign last season.
He twice took a tumble over the Grand National fences at Aintree last season and was pulled up in the official trial for the race at Haydock.
Ballyoptic did complete the Welsh Grand National off top-weight last Christmas was a distant sixth to the re-opposing Elegant Escape.
Prior to that, he went down all guns blazing by a nose in the 2018 Scottish Grand National at Ayr giving a whole stone away to Joe Farrell.
Ballyoptic also landed the Towton Novices’ Chase in this grade earlier last year.
The way he made all and jumped well on his return to action makes him an intriguing runner in this.
Ballyoptic is 13/2 with Ladbrokes as a result and handler Twiston-Davies has trained the Charlie Hall Chase winner five times before.
Aforementioned Welsh Grand National victor Elegant Escape represents Colin Tizzard here, meanwhile, but saw his form tail off last term.
This seven-year-old is one of the younger horses in the line-up and goes reasonably well fresh.
Elegant Escape won two of his first three starts last term, landing a Listed affair at Sandown before chasing home stable companion Sizing Tennessee in the Ladbrokes Trophy.
He went one better in Chepstow’s Christmas feature handicap when stepped up even further in trip. Elegant Escape was then held by Frodon in the Cotswold Chase and sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This is easier than that and when filling the same spot in the Punchestown Festival equivalent. Elegant Escape is 11/2 with Betway to bounce back now eased in grade.
Top Ville Ben and top rated Aso have questions to answer
The last of the course and distance winners is Top Ville Ben but those victories came in minor events.
Both were wide-margin successes for the Phil Kirby trained seven-year-old who has won three of his six chase starts.
This is a cut above small-runner novice chase fields. Top Ville Ben is another locally trained horse supporting the Charlie Hall Chase and when in graded company has faded in the closing stages.
He was last of five in the Reynoldstown at Ascot, then fell in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and third to Lostintranslation in a Grade 1 at Aintree.
Those performances count against Top Ville Ben despite market support from punters and bookmakers cutting his odds throughout the week.
Off the same official rating as La Bague Au Roi but without any allowances, he is likely to find this tough.
Top Ville Ben is 9/1 with Boylesports in this running of the Charlie Hall Chase.
Aso is the top rated horse in the line-up, but hasn’t quite stayed the trip in two previous starts.
Trained by Venetia Williams, this nine-year-old took his form to a new level last term when landing a Grade 3 handicap off top-weight at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
That was following up a 13-length success at Newbury. Although trailing in last in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase, Aso then chased home Frodon following a great battle between the pair in the Ryanair Chase.
That commands him respect, but a revised rating of 168 looks a definite ceiling he may struggle to live up to.
With stamina doubts surrounding Aso from previous attempts, his Charlie Hall Chase odds of 11/2 with Unibet look worth avoiding.