The lightly raced Weird Al made the best possible start for new trainer Donald McCain when getting the better of a good battle with the useful Time For Rupert in an above-average renewal of the Grade 2 Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby at the weekend and could be set for a fine season, writes Elliot Slater.

Trained until this season by Ian Williams (for whom he showed smart form last term on occasions), Weird Al has clearly settled in well to his new surroundings and maintained his 100% record at the A1 circuit having landed the Grade 2 Towton Novice Chase at the West Yorkshire track in February of last year, beating the decent Knockara Beau. The Accordion gelding only raced three times last term, and after dead-heating on his debut at Carlisle ran below expectations when only eighth behind Diamond Harry in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November – a race that could well be his first major target this term. Those looking at the date of Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 should remember this.

Not seen again until thrown in at the deep end in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, the eight-year-old was unable to do himself justice after bursting a blood vessel and tailed off soon after half way before being pulled up. At Wetherby on Saturday however a fit and healthy Weird Al put up a fine performance, jumping well in the main and travelling strongly in behind the pace-setting pair of Nacarat and Time For Rupert until sent up by Timmy Murphy to challenge at the second last. People looking at the Cheltenham Festival betting should bear this in mind.

A fine leap carried McCain’s charge into the lead at that penultimate obstacle and another good jump saw him seize the initiative from the Paul Webber-trained runner-up who eventually failed to quicken and was beaten three-and-a-half lengths. With the front pair pulling 27-lengths clear of last season’s National Hunt Chase winner Chicago Grey, the form looks very solid and it will be a surprise if Weird Al (now generally a 16/1 shot for the Gold Cup), and for that matter Time For Rupert, don’t feature prominently in the major three-mile chases throughout this season.

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