In much the same way that daffodils signify the arrival of spring, The Charlie Hall Chase reassures us that top class jumps racing is back for another great season. It is the first time in the season that we get the opportunity to see some of the top staying chasers in action and in recent seasons it has been a real conundrum to solve, throwing up some surprising results including victories for Weird Al (This is not a misprint), Harry Topper and Menorah to name but a few. Gone are the days when we could default to Ollie Magern each-way; primed and ready for the race of his season. A much deeper consideration is needed at this time of year as to who is likely to be fit enough to do themselves justice as well as having enough class to win the race. Saturday’s renewal is as strong as I can remember in recent years provided all of the runners take their chance. In order to find the winner this year we will have to delve into the form, make some assumptions, connect the dots and have a lot too. It might be likened to attending a fireworks display at your wacky uncle’s house. You know he’s spent a lot of money and bought the best fireworks, but whether he can get any of them to work safely on the night is another problem entirely. On that totally unrelated point let’s start taking a look at the runners and their chances. Grand National hero Many Clouds has won on his seasonal debut the last 2 seasons, albeit in small field contests which you would have expected him to win knowing what we know now. His main early season target will be the Hennessy in four weeks’ time, but I don’t see him turning up here just to make up the numbers. However, he carries top weight and that could compromise his chances significantly against some high class opponents on ground currently better than ideal. I expect him to run a solid race without winning. Menorah’s win in the race last season was a fantastic effort, particularly in carrying top weight. He is such a difficult horse to place as he is just as likely to run a shocker as he is to win, but he is almost certain to be in great shape for defence of his title and the depth of quality in the race could play to his strengths as a horse that likes to be held up to pounce late. With many of his rivals likely to be short of fitness the race may well fall apart a bit in the closing stages, leaving him to pounce and land the spoils again. Given the intended runners, they will almost certainly go a good gallop and stamina, fitness and hold up tactics may well be the order of the day. For this reason Menorah looks a rock solid each way bet. The Paul Nicholls trained Sam Winner also looks to have a strong chance. His early season form has been fantastic in recent seasons and he looked a reformed horse when winning at Cheltenham and Aintree before Christmas last season and then only just being collared in the Lexus Chase on Boxing Day. It would be hard for me to back him with the scars still showing from the Pertemps Final in 2013 when Paul Nicholls described his handicap mark of 140 as a ‘gift from god’, but I certainly think he could go well at a big price. Holywell is one that I would be firmly against on Saturday. Although he brings high class form to the table, he is a confirmed spring horse and often shows very little in the early part of the season. He was beaten a long way by Many Clouds on his seasonal reappearance last year and I would be inclined to lay him for a place given the strength of the opposition and the time of year. Likewise Irish Cavalier is not my idea of the winner. Although I think he is open to a lot of improvement this season having won a decent handicap chase at the festival last year, he was beaten 3 times subsequently before narrowly scoring in an intermediate chase at Newton Abbot. I don’t have the statistics to hand but there can’t be many horses that have won at Newton Abbot and then a graded chase on their next start. He wouldn’t have enough proven class for me to take seriously in a race like this and his price in the market ahead of Rocky Creek and Sam Winner is truly mystifying. Rocky Creek is a horse that I love. His win at Kempton last season was an astounding display of jumping. He was thoroughly disappointing in his subsequent performances at Aintree and Sandown but I’m inclined to put a line through those and given him another chance. He ran a solid race on seasonal debut at Down Royal last season when chasing home Road to Riches with some useful yardsticks in behind. I see him running a big race this weekend at a nice price. We have seen enough of Alderbrook Lad and The Romford Pele to be confident that they are below top class and barring any disasters in the race I can’t see either of them threatening the judge. Ballynagour is another one that I would be firmly against. He has been pulled up on his seasonal reappearance the last two seasons. He has just two chase wins to his name and has never won over 3 miles and is another one that looks way too short in the betting in a market which seems to have accommodated for possible improvement rather than reflecting the bare formbook. Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card has been a phenomenal horse in the past, particularly a couple of seasons ago when he was at his peak and won the Ascot Chase and the Ryanair. However, he has been firmly on the downgrade in recent times. If I had a pound for every time I had read an article quoting that Colin Tizzard believes Cue Card is back to his best I would be a very wealthy man indeed. In fact, several days ago he was quoted as saying “We worked four horses around Wincanton, including a couple of 130-rated horses, and he was far, far superior to them”. That would be a taking piece of insight if Cue Card were running in a 0-140 handicap chase. However, he has a lot more on his plate today and has had some physical problems to overcome in recent times too. I just can’t see him bouncing back to his best on his seasonal re-appearance, as much as I would love to see it. Finally, David Pipe’s Dynaste is the leading player in this year’s renewal for me. He hasn’t won since landing the Ryanair Chase in 2014 but had his problems at the business end of last season. He was given a pipe opener (no pun intended) over hurdles at Auteuil earlier this month and ran creditably over an inadequate trip. That will have put him spot on for the Charlie Hall and having run well in the Betfair Chase the last two seasons when fresh, he could well go one better today. He receives as much as 10lb from some of the leading players and he must be bang there at the finish. The Pipe team won the race in 2006 with Our Vic and Dynaste can take advantage of his fitness and race conditions to land the big prize this weekend. Why not boost your winnings with a FREE BET of up to £200 from one of our partner bookmakers? Advised bets 2pts WIN DYNASTE @ 9/2 (General) 1pt WIN MENORAH @ 13/2 (Bet365, SkyBet) 0.5pts E/W ROCKY CREEK @ 12/1 (General)