LAST year’s winner Bristol De Mai and 2016 King George hero Thistlecrack are among 11 entries for Saturday’s Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
In what is seen as the first major steeplechase of the National Hunt season, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained grey held off stablemate Blaklion to win 12 months ago – and then went on to take the Betfair Chase by a yawning 57 lengths.
Winless after that, he had wind surgery before chasing home Might Bite at Aintree in April.
Thistlecrack has not won since that famous day at Kempton, missing almost a year before returning over hurdles last December when well beaten. He was then not disgraced in defence of his King George crown for Colin Tizzard.
Paul Nicholls has two live contenders in prolific winner Black Corton and the promising Clan Des Obeaux, and Gordon Elliott has several options having entered Don Poli, Outlander and Alpha Des Obeaux.
Brian Ellison’s Gold Cup sixth Definitly Red, Tom George’s Double Shuffle and Anthony Honeyball’s Regal Encore complete the field.
Clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson is pleased with the entries but would like to see a bit more rain in the forecast.
“I’ve been up at Redcar this morning, and they got 28 millimetres of rain this weekend – while Wetherby only got eight,” he said. “We’re good ground at the minute – and we certainly won’t let it get any quicker than that, so we’ll be watering to maintain.
“There’s not much rain forecast – and while I know trainers would rather have natural good ground than watered good ground, we’ll get the best ground we can have for Friday and Saturday.
“As ever at this stage, the Charlie Hall looks a cracker, but we’ll just have to see who is declared and who turns up – because last year Double Shuffle was declared, and didn’t make it to the track because of travel problems!
“We’re expecting up to 10,000 people, the weather is set fair – and I hope they’ll see some top-class sport.”