By Geoffrey Riddle
North Yorkshire handler Brian Ellison hopes that Definitely Red's record when fresh will stand the eight-year-old in good stead in Saturday's bet 365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday.
Definitly Red improved 18lb over fences last season and posted victories in the Grade Three Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase, run over Saturday's course and distance, and Doncaster's Grimthorpe Handicap Chase, scoring by seven and 14 lengths respectively.
The 159-rated chaser was a leading fancy for the Grand National at Aintree following his Doncaster success, but was pulled up on the first circuit due to a slipped saddle.
"Definitly Red is in good form and we are very happy with him," Ellison said on Monday when his charge was entered alongside 12 others.
"But looking at the race, he will need to be in good form as it looks like a mini Gold Cup!
"Touch wood, he normally runs well fresh and has won first time out three out of the last four seasons, I think. He has been away and galloped, and looks a million dollars at the moment.
"I think he is going to be up to it [the rise in class]. He showed last season that he likes Wetherby and he was impressive again when winning by a long way at Doncaster.
"He is doing everything right and it looks like the ground is going to be ideal."
Bookmakers were at odds over who should start favourite for the £100,000 contest, which is staged over three miles.
Coneygree and Cue Card headed the 13 runners at the entries stage on Monday but William Hill initially went 11-8 about the Gold Cup winner and 9-4 about the King George winner. The sponsors were 9-4 Cue Card and 9-2 Coneygree. bet365 then took the market down and reissued their prices with Conygree at 5-2.
Connections of the Mark Bradstock-trained Coneygree have had this race in mind as a starting point for the season for the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, subject to suitable ground.
The 10-year-old has been restricted to just three races since then, one being the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November 2016 when he was second to Cue Card.
Colin Tizzard's evergreen 11-year-old took this prize in 2015 and was third 12 months ago and is bidding to become the seventh dual winner behind Wayward Lad (1983 & 1985) Celtic Shot (1990 & 1991), Barton Bank (1993 & 1995), One Man (1996 & 1997), See More Business (1999 & 2000) and Ollie Magern (2005 & 2007). Sizing Codelco also represents the Dorset trainer.
Blaklion was fourth in the latest renewal and makes his first appearance since finishing fourth in the Grand National. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, the most succssful handler in the race with four wins, also has Bristol De Mai under consideration for the three-mile Grade Two contest, although he has said that could wait for the Betfair Chase.
The going at Wetherby is currently soft, good to soft in places.
There has been approximately 40 millimetres of rain since the last meeting on October 18.
The outlook is for generally settled weather for the remainder of the week except for tomorrow Tuesday morning, when rain showers are forecast. These are predicted to yield up to four millimetres of rain.
Charlie Hall Chase betting - bet 365: 9-4 Cue Card, 5-2 Coneygree, 7 Blaklion, 8 Definitely Red, 10 Bristol De Mai, 12 More Of That, 16 Vieux Lion Rouge, Virgilio, 20 Shantou Flyer, Sizing Cadelco, Village Vic, 25 Double Shuffle, Indian Stream. Each-way 1/5 1,2,3.