Written by Darran Pearce 17th March
Alskamatic – Ran OK when 9th in this last year and also nearly won the 4m race here on hunter chase night, but Major Malarkey collared him late on. This season he is two from two winning a couple of Ladies Opens at Larkhill. He has done it well enough, but the form isn’t strong at all. Also he was only just under 2 seconds quicker than Impact Area on the first of those wins despite the fact he carried 11st and Impact Area carried 12st7lbs. Can see him finishing 9th again.
Aupcharlie – A bit surprising he was mainly campaigned at around 2m4f given he finished a head 2nd in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival over 3m. Was never a factor in the same Jewson Marito ran at the 2013 Festival. Also ran at last year’s Festival in the 2m5f handicap on day 3 when he was only beaten just over 10L in 10th and was outpaced again on that occasion. He lost his first point in November, but then won easily in January before beating Marito last time. He has never run over a trip as far as the Foxhunter but to me he looks more of a stayer than Marito. Won’t mind what the ground does either.
Brackloon High – Done well this season winning a couple of points at Higham and Cottenham, but was beaten last time. Was 13th in this last year and will do well to improve much on that.
Camden – Has got better with each start this season finishing 6th, 3rd, 2nd and then winning at Askham Bryan Collage last time out. Did win a Newton Abbot handicap off 119 by 10L the last time he was seen under Rules in April 2014, but nowhere near that level now and even that wouldn’t be good enough.
Cave Hunter – Did well last season to win two hunter chases in May at Hexham and Kelso. Returned this season to finish 3rd to Paint The Clouds at Doncaster. He didn’t jump well on that occasion though and the fact loads of fences were missed out helped him stay on again to finish 3rd. Do think he will win again at some point, but would be a shock winner here.
Chapoturgeon – Finished a very good second to Salsify in this in 2012 and then pulled up in the mud the following year. Had his injury problems since though. We saw him just once last year when he beat 3 rivals easily at Kingston St Mary. This year he fell first up and then won a match at Milborne St Andrew. It is impossible to know how much ability he still retains, but given he wasn’t quite good enough in his prime it would be surprising if he was good enough now. He might still have it in him to run well though.
Current Event – It can only be because the owner wants a runner at the Cheltenham Festival that this horse is running because he proved last year when finishing 12th that he doesn’t stay. More proof that he is better over shorter came when winning over 2m5f here and at Newton Abbot in the only handicap hunter chase of the season. He returned at Larkhill last month when he won over 2m4f, but he was a lucky winner as the likely winner fell at the last. Will Biddick takes the ride this year which is an obvious plus, but struggle to see him staying.
Current Exchange – Not been as good for me since moving to Gordon Elliott after he was running in points and hunter chases for Shelia Crow over here. Even at his best I wouldn’t have fancied him for this and he is an unlikely winner.
Dark Lover – He looked a suspect jumper of fences and an unlikely stayer when he turned up in the first hunter chase of the season at Taunton after being off the track for nearly two years. He then came out jumped well and stayed well also to beat Richmond. On a line through that horse though he will find it hard to beat Mendip Express. He qualified when winning at Market Rasen last month, but it was a pretty weak contest and the 2nd was pulled up at Warwick on Sunday.
Impact Area – A really likeable horse who is on the upgrade. When he won his first race last season he wasn’t even a registered horse, but he has looked a very good one since that debut at Larkhill. He has won six of his seven starts in points, the last of which he took the Coronation Gold Cup at Larkhill. He won a hunter chase at Fontwell last May and back there last month he made Mendip Express pull out all the stops. As much as I like him I do think he is an unlikely winner though. Given Mendip Express’ mistakes he had a great opportunity to beat him and he couldn’t. He was also 30L behind Mr Mercurial on hunter chase night here last season and although he has improved since, I would say the winner has as well. I hope he runs well for connections, but will do very well to hit the frame. Not sure why but he also has a new jockey on today and although Sam is good, it is a concern as I think he is a horse that takes a bit of knowing.
Indiana Bay – One of my cliff horses as he looked like he had the ability and form to win a hunter chase for ages and yet for various reasons it didn’t happen until last May at Newton Abbot where he found a weak contest. Should come on for his 3rd in a point on his seasonal reappearance, but would need to improve massively on his form to feature here.
It Came To Pass – Finished 2nd to the sadly departed You Must Know Me at Leopardstown last month and ran well given he jumped right handed at a few of the fences. That would obviously be a concern here, as is the fact he has only ever run on testing ground. If you throw in that this would only be his 5th ever run, you have to think this will all come too soon for him. He does look very progressive though based on the Leopardstown 2nd and the easy win at Limerick over Christmas. Kingscliff did win this as a 6yo in 2003, but he doesn’t look up to that level.
Major Malarkey – Harry Bannister produced the ride of the hunter chase season last year to get him up to beat Alskamatic on hunter chase night, but has looked very moody again on both runs since. He didn’t look like he fancied it at all at Doncaster last time. If he was on a going day he probably has it in him to run a fair race, but you couldn’t back him.
Marito – Pretty classy under Rules with his best win coming in a Listed chase at Tramore on New Years Day 2014. Was bang in contention in the 2013 Jewson at Cheltenham as well until he fell at two out. He won a couple of Irish points at the start of their season and then had a very easy win in the hunter chase at Down Royal on Boxing Day. His only run since was last month in a point at Oldtown but he lost by 1/2L to Aupcharlie. He was keen in a small field and he made a mistake at the last which didn’t help. I wonder also if he didn’t quite stay as well. He has mainly run on testing ground although proven he does handle good to soft, but the trip has to be the main issue with him.
Mendip Express – Would have been a Foxhunter contender had connections decided to go down that route in 2014 after looking very good in point to points the couple of seasons prior to that. The fact they went down the handicap route showed how good they thought he was and he achieved a fair bit, including winning at Cheltenham off 139 and finishing 2nd in the 2014 Becher Chase off 144. His new owner/rider David Maxwell paid £75k for him at the sales last May and no doubt they had this race in mind. Was pretty impressive when winning at Warwick on his hunter chase debut, however was anything but at Fontwell last time. He made at least three bad mistakes including at the first in home straight which nearly cost him the race and even then he only just beat Impact Area. The jockey will be a concern for anyone backing him at Cheltenham especially as he wont be able to use his 5lbs claim. The horse is good enough to run a big race, but his jockey isn’t and that is something you have to factor in if you want to back him.
Mr Mercurial – Looked progressive last in 2014 when moving from Ireland to Sheila Crow and carried on with the progression last season. As he proved at Leicester and Towcester, he can be a hard ride and idles in front. A little unlucky when he lost at Leicester though as Following Dreams who beat him is a proven stayer and 2m4f was a bit sharp for him and he managed to get going late. He also went on to finish 2nd in the Foxhunter. Paddy Gerety has learned how to ride him now as he showed when winning at Southwell and the Intermediate Final at Cheltenham where he was really impressive. He was a bit disappointing in the John Corbett Cup at Stratford after that but he may well have had enough for the season. He made his seasonal debut at Horseheath last month and he beat a top class field in impressive style. Glint Of Steel who was second was unbeaten in points prior to that race and Templebraden who was well behind in 3rd was 2nd to Impact Area in the Coronation Gold Cup on his previous start. He was given the perfect ride by Paddy as he led on the bit at the last and was just ridden out on the run in. Paddy was interviewed after the race and you could tell they thought he had a real chance at Cheltenham. He looks progressive and we know he handles the track. Shelia Crow trained Cappa Bleu to win the Foxhunter and he also ran at Horseheath as one of his prep runs before Cheltenham. The 50/1 about him after his Horseheath win has long gone, as has the 25/1 that he was when I tipped him up on At The Races a couple of weeks ago. I still think there is some juice in the price though for those that are yet to back him.
Need To Know – Beat Anseanachai Cliste last month but was well beaten in a hunter chase at Punchestown in December and has no chance.
On The Fringe – One of the best hunter chasers we have seen in recent years and landed the Festival hat-trick last season. I didn’t think he stayed well enough to win a Cheltenham Foxhunter, but he certainly proved me wrong as he stormed up the Cheltenham hill last season. He returned at Leopardstown last month and his trainer was honest in saying beforehand that he would come on for the race. He also said after the race though that he was a little disappointed with how it did run and I agree with him. He certainly wasn’t knocked about, but if allowing for that and the fact he wasn’t 100% fit, I was still surprised and disappointed he didn’t run better than he did. If he turns up in the same form he was last season then he wins, but he does have a slight question mark over him now after that Leopardstown run. His owner has said in Festival previews that he is his best chance of a winner all week, so clearly the confidence is there.
Pacha Du Polder – The most talked about horse in the race! It is impossible to talk about the horse without mentioning his jockey so I will start with her. When it was announced that Victoria Pendleton was going to attempt to ride in this race just over a year ago I thought it was an early April Fools joke. However, I did know that she would be very determined to achieve that goal and that is exactly how it has turned out. She has worked so hard to get this far and as regards to Betfair, they found the perfect person. I don’t understand why people in racing are so anti this, because she has managed to get racing a lot of good press coverage and, from my point of view, the increased attention on pointing and hunter chases is also welcome. A lot of so called experts have based their opinion on her on just two races over fences because that is all they have seen her ride. I have seen her ride in points in the flesh, as well as on video, and she is perfectly safe. I have seen plenty worse in points and hunter chases and it is amazing at how capable she has become in such a short space of time. The one thing I think Betfair have messed up on is the fact they didn’t buy enough horses for her at the start of the season. One of the two they originally purchased hasn’t even run, and they really needed five or six to get as much race riding experience into her as possible. At Fakenham Paul Nicholls gave her the wrong riding instructions as she was on the best horse in the race and they should have told her to be positive and front run, just as they did at Wincanton. Instead, holding it up, you ran the risk of an accident occurring which of course is what did happen. Wincanton was a different story and she was full of confidence on the horse and never looked in any danger of falling off. Now the Cheltenham Foxhunter is a different story again, but the horse should jump safely for her and I think she can stay on. The other thing people are forgetting is that she is qualified to ride in the race, so at the end of the day she can ride and it doesn’t matter what they think.
Now let’s deal with the horse. He was one of the best British hunter chasers last season and his 2nd to On The Fringe at Aintree was a superb effort. In my view Paul Nicholls wouldn’t even be running the horse at Cheltenham if Victoria wasn’t riding him. He knows the horse has got little chance of staying the trip and that without Victoria, Aintree would have been the target again. He finished 3rd in the big one at Stratford over 3m4f last season, but Will Biddick rode him to finish in the best possible position that day and although he might have enough class to complete the course, he wouldn’t have enough stamina to win this race whomever was riding him. I really hope that Victoria gets round safely and finishes the race as that would be a great story for racing. It would be amazing if she won or hit the frame, but I really don’t think the horse is going to have enough stamina to do either.
Paint The Clouds – Went off favourite for this race last year, but the rain came and I think he ran really well to finish 3rd, albeit 17L behind On The Fringe on ground he doesn’t like. He followed that up with a great 4th in the bet365 Gold Cup and then again the rain came at Stratford when he was just denied by Morman in the Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunters Chase. Won the same race at Doncaster last week that he won last year and although they only jumped nine fences he did it very easily and was worth more than the official winning margin. That suggested he is in as good as form as he was going into this race last season and it looks like he is going to get the good ground he desperately needs. He is a big player.
Pena Dorada – Won a couple of handicaps at Cartmel over the summer and ran really well to finish 2nd at Musselburgh last time. The winner Railway Dillon was stuffed behind Paint The Clouds at Doncaster though and has no chance here.
Richmond – 2nd to Dark Lover and Mendip Express this season which gives him no chance here.
Temple Grandin – I like this horse a lot and he did well to beat Ace High on his only start so far this season, but he was only 17th in this last year and he isn’t quite up to this level.
Twirling Magnet – Yet to run this season, but did win a couple of hunter chases at Ludlow and Newbury last year. Ran OK to finish 6th to On The Fringe at Aintree, but that effort, his 4th in the big one at Stratford, and the fact he doesn’t always finish off his races that well suggests he has a bit to find to feature here.
I have backed two horses ante-post for this in Paint The Clouds and Mr Mercurial and I still think both are worth backing. Paint The Clouds has plenty of class and ran well in this race last year given the ground had gone soft. If the forecast stays right then he will get the ground he needs and he looks a solid each way bet. Mr Mercurial looks to still be improving based on his win at Horseheath and he looked so good when winning at Cheltenham in April. There are a lot of horses with little chance of winning and he is one of a handful of possible winners in my opinion and with the bookies pushing him back out and four places he is still value.
As for the Irish runners I do have my concerns about On The Fringe, but I think the bookies will be out to lay him on Friday morning and I will probably have a saver on him. If he has come on for his Leopardstown run and he is back to the form he was in last year then he will prove hard to beat. Marito looks a doubtful stayer for me and Aintree looks as if it will be his chance of winning a Foxhunter. Aupcharlie looks more of a stayer in my view and I think he has a better chance than Marito.
- Paint The Clouds e/w
- Mr Mercurial e/w
- On The Fringe (Friday morning hopefully at 7/2 or bigger)