WARREN GREATREX believes that dual Grade One-winning mare La Bague Au Roi can prove her class in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase – the first major steeplechase of the National Hunt season.
Victorious in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton last Boxing Day when beating subsequent Cheltenham Festival hero Topofthegame, she is among 12 entries for Wetherby’s feature race of the year.
They include defending champion Definitly Red – Malton trainer Brian Ellison’s string could not be in better form – and mudlark Top Ville Ben for Catterick trainer Phil Kirby and his team.
But Greatrex believes his mare, who has a great rapport with champion jockey Richard Johnson, will take all the beating – she subsequently won a Grade One contest at Leopardstown before being denied by Kalashnikov at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
The Lambourn trainer is a great supporter of Wetherby – he believes the West Yorkshire track offers a very fair test for young horses – and La Bague Au Roi is already a two-time course winner.
“She has summered very well and looks great. The lad who rides her every morning says she feels a bit stronger, so there is every chance she could be better than last year, which is exciting,” enthused Greatrex.
“She’s come back in as well as ever and is working very well. She’s still very much in love with the game. If all goes well (at Wetherby) she’ll head to Kempton for the Ladbrokes King George.
“We’ll keep her to two runs before the new year and then take it from there. There’s nothing to say she won’t be even better than last season and she’s schooled very well. The mares’ allowance will hold her in good stead in the elite races.”
Other contenders include last year’s runner-up Black Corton – she blundered badly under Bryony Frost – the progressive Vinndication for Kim Bailey who previously won the race with Harry Topper and Jett for top Irish trainer Jessica Harrington.
As expected, the ever popular Lady Buttons, owned and bred by Jayne and Keith Sivills, heads the entries for the Mares’ Hurdle.
Trained by the aforementioned Phil Kirby, she won the contest last year and is due to be reunited with regular rider Adam Nicol who only returned to the saddle earlier this month after breaking his leg in a horror fall at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day.
And a drying weather forecast means the threat to the two-day meeting – it begins on Friday when Jedd O’Keeffe’s stable star Sam Spinner could line up in a three mile novice chase – is negligible according to clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson.
Though parts of the back straight still remain under standing water, he expects this to have receded by the end of Tuesday.
“We’re good to soft with a little bit of water standing in places,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“The flooding at the weekend has dropped by 50 per cent. The rivers are falling all the time which is all good.
“I’m hoping the track will be clear of all water in the next 24 hours.”
Sanderson said a very good covering of grass meant there would be no false ground down the back straight which is the most affected area.
He also said under-foot conditions were in total contrast to 12 months ago when he, and his team, were having to water the course extensively after a prolonged dry spell just to maintain safe jumping ground.