2016 Foxhunters' Chase Preview, Trends, Tips
The Amateurs' Gold Cup, as it is known, is run directly after the Blue Riband, and this year looks set to have added focus with the announcement on Monday that Olympic cycling gold medallist, Victoria Pendleton, will ride just a year after first climbing into this type of saddle.
Purists wail that Pendleton's presence detracts from the Festival, but horsemen (and women) insist she's good enough to take her place in a race where, let's face it, there are generally one or two whose enthusiasm outstrips their ability by some margin.
Foxhunters' Chase Trends
Some really interesting data here with much of it pleasingly counter-intuitive, in terms of the market at least. Let's start with age in a race where 37% of runners since 1997 have been 11+.
All bar two have failed that 11+ age examination, which is to say just 11% of winners came from that 37% of runners. 28% of the placed horses were aged 11+, twelve of the fifteen being aged exactly 11 (from 45 in that age group).
At the other end of the age spectrum, six- and seven-year-olds have a striking record from a handful of runners. Five winners (28%) from just 38 runners (9%) is a remarkable effort. This year, It Came To Pass is a fascinating six-year-old representing form from what has recently been the best trial for the Foxhunters' - more on that shortly.
The in-betweeners - aged eight to ten - have claimed 61% of the win (and 61% of the place) positions, from 53% of the runners.
It is a well known issue in National Hunt racing that the British point-to-point scene is in decline right now, and that has been reflected in this race in recent seasons. Irish-trained horses have won the last five Foxhunters' Chases, and claimed another four places (60%), from just 27 runners (23%).
Of the 16 winners to have previously raced under Rules since 1997, all had won over at least three miles, albeit that 83% of runners historically qualified.
In what can be an extreme test of stamina with the pace often searching and the distance longer than most hunter chases, it makes sense that those to have won over further would perform well. To wit, the 14% of runners that previously raced under Rules and won at three and a half miles or beyond have claimed 31% of the wins and 23% of the places: marathon wins are worth marking up.
Ex-Handicapper vs Pure Pointer?
With thanks to Matt Tombs (@thespieler) for pointing out that 24 of the last 27 Foxhunters' Chase winners started their careers in point-to-points or hunter chases.
From a trends angle, then, we might be looking for a young Irish-trained horse that started racing in the fields and has proven stamina. It Came To Pass looks a very interesting candidate.
Foxhunters' Chase Form Preview
The market for this race is interesting, very interesting. It has a default favourite in On The Fringe, wide margin Foxhunters' Chase champion last season, and it's then 7/1 bar.
It is reasonable to expect justification of a statement calling On The Fringe, the 'triple crown' (Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown) Champion Hunter, a default favourite. Here, then, is my rationale: OTF has run just once since his Punchy win on 1st May last year, and that was a moderate 24 length tonking in the Leopardstown Inn Hunters' Chase, a key trial for this race.
Last season, he was less than a length second in that race, having already run second in the St Stephen's Day Hunter Chase at Down Royal. In an eighteen race Rules career, he had not previously finished out of the first four when completing (one fall).
Moreover, he's eleven now, and we've already read about the uphill struggle such 'experienced' horses have in winning the Foxhunters' at Cheltenham.
It is reasonable to presume that his tardy seasonal bow was down to some sort of issue and, on balance, these elements are enough to overlook a horse trading no bigger than 11/4 in what will be a field of two dozen or so. Of course, he can be expected to improve markedly on that Leopardstown outing, and his form in the race reads 431. I just don't like the price.
The rising star of the Irish point ranks this season has been Marito, formerly rated as high as 153 when trained by Willie Mullins. Colin McBratney, his new trainer, trained Carsonstown Boy to run 2nd and 4th in the last two editions of the Foxhunters' Chase so he has a good handle on what is needed.
Since switching yards and heading between the flags, Marito has won three of his four point and hunter chases, the winning sequence coming to an end when beaten by Aupcharlie in an Open Point four weeks ago.
Reservations about Marito are numerous. He's out of a mare whose sire was a dirt sprinter. He started over middle distances on the flat. He's regressed rather than progressed to the hunter chase scene. And he has stamina to prove in quite a big way. Oh, and his hold up style may not be suited to a race of such hurly burly potential.
Aupcharlie, who lowered Marito's colours at Oldtown that last day, was also a decent chaser and was also rated as high as 153 in his pomp. Similar comments thus apply about regressing to this world, and about stamina reservations (though not as much as Marito). He may want some cut in the ground to show his best, too, but a third in the Champion Bumper of 2011 further attests to his former class.
Paint The Clouds is the same price as Aupcharlie, 8/1. I fancied him quite strongly last year when he was undone by soft ground, eventually running a gallant race in third. He's a year older now, eleven, and he didn't really have many excuses when outstayed by Moroman in Stratford's Champion Hunter Chase in May.
In his prep for this he won the same Doncaster hunter chase that he won last year, though by a smaller margin against a less talented rival. If it was genuine fast ground on the day, I'd be prepared to roll the dice with him but, given that dependency and his age, 8/1 doesn't float my boat.
Philip Hobbs is Mendip Express's fourth west country trainer, and this lad actually raised £75,000 at the sales last May having run second in the Becher Chase in December 2014. Connections have him entered in the Grand National, a gig that appears to have been the driver behind stumping up a huge chunk of change for a veteran aged ten.
Still, he doesn't have many miles on the clock - just a dozen Rules starts - and has an impressive 50% win strike rate. Winner of a course and distance handicap chase on good to soft, we at least know he stays and can handle the track. And, importantly, his form appears to be at least as good now as it was when he won that race two years ago. He's a thorough stayer and has a good chance, reflected in a top price of 8/1 with the NRNB bookies (10/1 in a place if you don't mind risking his absence).
It Came To Pass is 14/1, presumably on account of his inexperience. The Cheltenham Foxhunters' will be only his fifth start, and only the ill-fated You Must Know Me has been good enough to beat him in three completions (pulled up on point-to-point debut), in the aforementioned Leopardstown kingmaker trial. It Came To Pass had better than four lengths daylight on dual Foxhunters' winner, Salsify, there with On The Fringe eased off over twenty lengths back.
This son of Brian Boru is only six, but similar youth didn't stop Robert and Sue Alner's Kingscliff winning in 2003 and it might not stop this fellow either. Victory for It Came To Pass would be yet another noteworthy chapter in the curious tale of Jim Culloty's training career.
Winner of three Gold Cup's as the jockey of Best Mate in the early 2000's, Culloty has recorded annual winners since he started training in 2006 of 1,3,1,3,2,7,9,7,3,2 and zero so far in 2016. And yet, amidst those numbers, he can boast THREE Cheltenham Festival winners, including a Gold Cup!
All three - Lord Windermere twice and Spring Heeled - were owned by Dr Ronan Lambe, as is It Came To Pass, and the potentially heart-warming tale doesn't stop there. Culloty actually bought this horse as a yearling for €12,000 (about nine grand sterling)!
That seems incredibly cheap given he's out of the same mare as Lord Windermere and is a full brother to the high class novice chaser, Sub Lieutenant (that one costing €58,000 at the same age).
He jumps brilliantly, stays very well, and has any amount of improvement in him. He does have to prove he acts on quicker turf, but both his family tree and his action offer hope on that score. 14/1 NRNB 1/4 123 looks attractive each way.
Mr Mercurial has come the point/hunter chase route, and is trained by Sheila Crow, famous for winning the Foxhunters' with Cappa Bleu in 2009. This son of Westerner looks to have plenty to find on bare form, but connections are respected and his win over further in a big field Cheltenham hunter chase last April on good to soft says conditions will be fine.
At 16/1 he has his chance and it's not a bad one at that.
If It Came To Pass would be a story, Pacha Du Polder would be the story. The nine-year-old will be ridden by Victoria Pendleton, an eleven time World and Olympic gold medal winner, converted from two wheels to four legs and a heartbeat just a year ago.
It is an incredible story, and one that has understandably reached way beyond racing's somewhat incestuous fraternity into the general consciousness. That is no mean feat of PR, regardless of what individuals within the sport may say (me included on occasion, I am honourbound to add).
In terms of her chance in this race, that has to be taken in two parts, horse and jockey. Pendleton's mount was second in the Aintree Foxhunters' and third in the Stratford Champion Hunter - flat tracks both - but he's never been especially at home around Cheltenham. Moreover, he may not quite stay this far, plugging on in both of those placed efforts.
As a jockey, Pendo almost certainly won't be the worst in the field, but nor is she comparable to the likes of Nina Carberry, Derek O'Connor or Jamie Codd. That is not meant as a slight. Rather it is cold punting fact. Those guys and girls have been doing it for way longer and have way more experience. I want experience on my side in this race, from the jockey more so than the horse.
Good luck to Victoria - I hope she gets round, it will likely be the thrill of her life - but she's not a bet for me. She may yet have her day on him at Aintree. How amazing would that be for the sport, with the eyes of the world on the Grand National too?
We're in the land of the 25/1+ pokes now, and there may still be a couple worth a second glance. Current Event had a crack at this last year and didn't run too badly. He was another for whom the soft ground probably counted as a negative.
Here's the interesting thing, though. He was sent off an 8/1 shot there and yet, despite showing improved form since, is now available at 33/1 NRNB in a place. He's 14/1 elsewhere and the fatter end of that odds spectrum is worth a nibble, each way.
Finally, Impact Area, a 25/1 shot, is lightly raced, had been winning Open points at Larkhill before just getting chinned by Mendip Express at Fontwell last time. On a literal reading of that form, he shouldn't be three times the price.
Foxhunters' Chase Tips
Luck is always a key component in this race, and it often pays to side with a well ridden proven stayer placed handily. While On The Fringe is expected to improve on a moderate seasonal bow in his title defence, he's seriously opposable at shy of 3/1.
Marito, too, makes little appeal and the pick of the top of the market might be Mendip Express. But I think I'll take a couple of flyers a bit further down: I want to be with It Came To Pass, the youngest in the field by two years but clearly talented and capable of plenty more than he's shown so far. 14/1 each way is spot on.
And I am prepared to have a tiny bite of Current Event, bidding to follow up a midfield effort last term when well fancied. If the turf is quick, he'll have a far better chance than 33/1.
0.5 pt e/w It Came To Pass 14/1 totesport, Betfred NRNB 1/4 1-2-3
0.25 pt e/w Current Event 33/1 Coral NRNB 1/5 1-2-3
Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews
All of our in-depth previews, trends and tips can be found here: