Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Preview, Trends, Tips
The 'amateur Gold Cup', as it's known, is run straight after the Gold Cup and over the same testing course and distance. It is always a thrilling spectacle - though not necessarily for the right reasons - as jockeys variously hail cabs, knit pullovers, and otherwise make life difficult for their generally experienced hacks.
Last year was different, though still eventful. Poor Jane Mangan, one of the best amateurs around, set off up the run in aboard Oscar Delta with the race at her mercy. Alas, the horse was spooked by the thin tape which marks the run in from the arc of the bend, and jinked violently giving Jane no chance. She was unshipped and Salsify doubled up.
There's no Salsify this year, but Oscar Delta and Miss Mangan return, and this scribe wishes them well.
Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Trends
There are a couple of reasonable trends for the Foxhunters, as follows.
Age: Despite the presence of plenty of veteran sorts, just two winners since 1990 were older than ten. There was also just one six-year-old, Kingscliff, winner in that time. If history is to repeat itself this year, the likes of Palypso de Creek, Oscar Delta, Berties Dream and Pearlysteps - all well fancied - look to have it to do.
Rules form: Since 1997, only Cappa Bleu (2009) came directly from the point fields to win without a run under rules (i.e. in hunter chases). Of those racing under rules during that time, ten of the fifteen winners had won on their last rules start.
Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Preview
Winners of the Foxhunters at Cheltenham tend to be either established top hunters, or rapidly improving youngsters. They are generally relatively young, in hunter chase terms; and they often race prominently, thereby avoiding both the carnage in behind and the need for their pilots to use strength to make up ground.
If I sound cynical, it's because I've seen plenty of these races. On the other hand, of course, I'm a wagering interloper and so - if I don't like what I see - I can bet elsewhere. All fair enough!
This year, the established top drawer hunters are On The Fringe, Tammy's Hill (if he travels), Oscar Delta and, to a lesser extent, Divine Intavention.
In the rising star camp are Harbour Court, Shy John, and Certain Flight.
On The Fringe has been lumbered as favourite by default to some degree, with the enforced absences of both hat-trick-seeking Salsify and expensive purchase, Mossey Joe. But he has clear form credentials to put him on the rarefied market perch.
Twice a winner of the Punchestown Champion Hunter Chase, a race won by Baby Run en route to Festival glory; and also a winner of the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter at Leopardstown, the pre-eminent Irish trial; On The Fringe was a precocious talent.
Indeed he was just five when scoring in the first of that brace of Punchy Hunters. He's raced sparingly since, and this season won a strong hunter chase at Down Royal on Boxing Day (beating Tammy's Hill and Salsify), before just ceding to Tammy's Hill in this year's Raymond Smith.
That form is arguably the best on show and On The Fringe will be a lot better equipped to finish his race off than he was when fourth in the 2011 renewal as a six-year-old. Though this may be made to look folly after the race, he's placepot banker material in the green and gold of JP McManus.
An obvious danger then is his last day vanquisher, Tammy's Hill, who was slated to run at last year's Festival before a pulled muscle scuppered the plan. This nine-year-old is very closely tied in with both On The Fringe and Salsify and, given the latter won the last two Foxhunters' and the former is favourite for this one, he looks a fair bet at around 6/1 non-runner money back (he's 7/1 in a place but if he doesn't get on the boat the game is up).
I have a slight niggle about the ground - he'd certainly prefer it muddy - but his form on good is, well, good and he may well have been unsuited by Stratford's tight turns in the summer hunter championship event.
Oscar Delta and Divine Intavention were the moral winner and fairly distant third horses last year (though, as the race record shows, the form failed to complete and the latter was second as a consequence).
Oscar Delta's record in the race is impeccable: third in 2011, third in 2012, and looking a certain winner in 2013. He'd been thumped behind Salsify in the Raymond Smith before all but reversing form with that one on the day that mattered, and has had a similarly low key prep this term.
My issue with him is that he's eleven now, and he's had a few tries. Last year was surely his year and, though it will be an awesome story if he - and Jane Mangan - can win, they're not for me at 10/1.
Divine Intavention was what Salsify received when Oscar Delta ditched La Mangan, and meant this chap ran a twenty length second. He's since run second to smart hunters Rumbury Grey and Hawkeye Native and, more recently, has been winning Class 4 handicap chases. now in the care of Martin Keighley, a trainer local to Cheltenham, he'll probably take some support on the day, and may have improved a bit since the switch.
The rising stars are much harder to quantify. Harbour Court trumpeted his arrival on the main drag with wins in the Intermediate Champions Hunter at the Cheltenham May meeting and the Champion Novices' Hunter at Stratford in the summer. He was a very unlucky early faller in a Kelso hunter, but has since landed a point by five lengths at Cottenham, beating the useful Nikos Extra.
That does leave him with something to find and, though he'd be far from a shock winner, I'd much rather be on 7/2 On The Fringe than 4/1 Harbour Court.
Shy John is an experienced pointer with thirteen runs between the flags - five wins and six further places - to his credit. In three hunter chase efforts, he's improved upon his only race last year to win both times this season, beating decent marker Richard's Sundance in the process. It's possible that he was flattered there, as both Richard's Sundance (now twelve) and third placed Coombe Hill (thirteen) could be on the downgrade.
All that said, he is a strong traveller, and if he's raced close to the pace, will see the trip out without a bother.
Perhaps the most interesting of the nominated trio of aspirants is Certain Flight. I was at Huntingdon for his first race under rules - he's had 23 point-to-point starts - and he absolutely bolted up, the official margin being fifteen lengths. His rider that day, Will Biddick, said afterwards, "He's a nice horse and has yet to be tested".
Biddick is one of the more experienced amateurs, so those are comments worthy of note about this 20/1 chance.
True, it was a weak race and main market rival, Qualviro failed to fire (carrying my cash!), but he couldn't have done it any more impressively.
Of the older guard, Pearlysteps and Berties Dream appeal most. The former is a strong stayer who has won both starts in hunter chases this term. I would have a reservation about the big field for a horse that has only ever won in single figure fields, and who has been beaten on eleven occasions when facing double-digit rivals.
Berties Dream has plenty of Festival form, including when a surprise winner of the 2010 'potato race' (Albert Bartlett). On his last rules outing, he ran a massive fifth of 24, beaten less than seven lengths, in the Pertemps Final as a 33/1 shot. He lagged up in the Ladies' Open at North Carlton by 20 lengths, and will likely again have experienced amateur Gina Andrews on board.
For a horse with such excellent Cheltenham credentials (he was also an eight length sixth in the 2011 World Hurdle), Berties Dream is a tempter at 20/1.
Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Tips
It's a wide open and compelling renewal of the Foxhunters, and I'm going to take one from the top and two at big prices. Although it's tough to choose between On The Fringe and Tammy's Hill, the latter is twice the price of the former, and I just can't understand why. That represents a clear value selection, though I'd obviously fear On The Fringe greatly.
At bigger prices, Berties Dream has a lot in his favour: he's been in fine form, has a top lady rider in Gina Andrews, and loves Cheltenham and specifically the Festival. At eleven, he's not getting any younger but he'll go on any ground and 20/1 is too big (16/1 non-runner money back probably the more prudent play).
And Certain Flight is a left field speculative. I was very taken when I saw him in the flesh at Huntingdon on his first rules outing, and he annihilated his rivals that day. Clearly, this is a huge step up in class, but he's earned the right to tilt at so many equine windmills, and I think 20/1 is again fair enough for this 'could be anything' type.
Tammy's Hill 6/1 BetVictor NRNB / 7/1 William Hill all in run or not
Big Priced Alternatives:
Berties Dream 16/1 bet365 NRNB BOG / 20/1 888sport all in run or not
Certain Flight 20/1 Betfred NRNB
[NRNB = Non-Runner No Bet; BOG = Best Odds Guaranteed]