It was like “looking at a Premier League squad” as the entries arrived on Monday for the Charlie Hall Chase this weekend, according to Jonjo Sanderson, Wetherby’s clerk of the course.
“I’d been given a slight nod that Cyrname [the top-rated chaser in trainer] was coming, which was a huge tonic for us,” Sanderson said on Tuesday, “but they just kept coming as we went through the morning. We got to about 15 and it was stuck for ages, then the next time I looked, it was up to 20 and we had [2018 Gold Cup runner-up] Might Bite and [dual Grade One winner] La Bague Au Roi in there, and quite a few others.
“We’re living in strange times and there’s reasons why some of those horses can’t go to Northern Ireland on Saturday [for a valuable meeting at Down Royal], so we’re the lucky beneficiaries really. I’m sure the weather and the condition of the course is playing its part as well, and it’s slightly ironic that in a year when we’ve had to trim the prize money a little, we’ve probably got the best field I’ve seen for the Charlie Hall in my 12 or 13 years at Wetherby.”
There has not been a double-figure field for the Charlie Hall since 2006, when Our Vic beat nine rivals, but there is every chance that there will be at least as many lining up this weekend.
“We had about 5mm of rain yesterday that wasn’t particularly forecast and we should get about the same today, which is forecast,” Sanderson said. “But it’s not going to cause any major issues, we started the season on good-to-soft and it may have dried marginally [since], but if we get what’s forecast we’ll be around good-to-soft, soft by Friday and Saturday, so all being well it will be the nice, early-season jumping ground that we’ve been craving for years.”
Wetherby has staged only one meeting since racing was suspended in mid-March, and while the racing this Friday and Saturday, when the supporting card also includes the Grade Two West Yorkshire Hurdle, should do its part to keep off-course betting turnover rolling, the track itself will miss out on gate and hospitality revenue from its most high-profile fixture of the year.
“Friday is pretty successful in its own right, but this meeting and Christmas, those four days alone, are a pretty significant contribution to our annual revenue,” he said. “I think we get around 40 per cent of our crowd over those days, so it’s a bit of a bind to be brutally honest. But we’re not alone, we just have to knuckle down and play the cards that we’re dealt.
“We lost the last six fixtures of last season, so by the spring, we’ll probably have gone through 24 fixtures without crowds. But we budgeted for no crowds for the whole season so we have a reasonably good outlook on what we are dealing with this season and the Levy Board’s funding is a huge assistance for us in terms of our prize money commitment. So long as we can all keep the Levy Board going, it will be a huge support for British racing.” Greg Wood
Tuesday’s best bets, by Chris Cook
A handful of chasing debutants might prove to be nicely handicapped today, most notably Hideaway Vic (1.50), a 4-1 shot at Chepstow. He fared respectably in a handful of hurdles starts but is bred to be better at this and comes from the Anthony Honeyball yard that has managed two winners from six recent runners.
A failure to settle on heavy going cost him at Plumpton in January, his only handicap outing so far. He was a warm order that day and was attracting some support on Monday night.
At Bangor, they’re staging two divisions of a novice handicap chase, with Forget You Not (12.30) and Fair And Dandy (1.00) both looking like they could leave their previous form behind in this sphere, at double-figure odds. But Mint Condition (3.40) is the most interesting runner on the card, moving into handicaps after showing promise in novice hurdles last term, representing an in-form, low-profile yard. He’s being overlooked at 9-1.