The final decs are through for the 2017 Foxhunter and we have a full field of 24 for this year’s race. As always I make my in-depth preview free to view and thanks to Josh for putting it up on his site.
Anseanachai Cliste – A horse I remember well from his time when owned by David Maxwell. I saw him run in a couple of points at Godstone under David and he didn’t look like a horse that wanted to know. He then ran in a hunter chase at Warwick when Will Biddick rode him and again he just wasn’t interested and pulled up. That was in 2015 and he went back to Ireland after that. He surprised me when finishing 5th at Leopardtown (in front of On The Fringe) last year and then he surprised me again when I saw how short he was in the betting for this. Following Leopardstown he went on to win 7 races on the bounce! I can’t quite believe it is the same horse I witnessed in 2015. Horses he beat include Valmy Baie and Quiet Account so the form isn’t bad. He hasn’t been seen since winning in June though and even though he clearly is a much better horse than he used to be, his form still looks below what is required to win this.
Ask The Weatherman – Been the big market mover for the race. He was going to be aimed at the Foxhunters last season, but he picked up an injury. He has won 8 of his 9 points and it is interesting watching his videos because he hasn’t always looked visually impressive, but what does make you sit up and take notice are the times he has been clocking. Last season in his two runs he clocked the fastest time at Larkhill in soft ground when he won by 30L and it was the same story in even worse ground at Chipley. On his seasonal debut at Larkhill he recorded the fastest time by 7 seconds when beating Ceasar Milan by 15L and then he put in a very impressive performance when beating Rebel Rebellion on his Rules debut at Wincanton. I was impressed with his jumping that day and he looks to have all the qualities you need to win a Foxhunter. The problem is Rebel Rebellion disappointed at Leicester recently although you probably have to say he didn’t run his race. He won’t mind what the weather does, but if it does rain crucially we know he handles it. He looks like he stays all day and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if he turned into a Grand National horse at some stage and Cappa Bleu who run the Foxhunter in 2009 went on to finish 4th and 2nd in the National.
Aupcharlie – Was 3rd in the 2011 Cheltenham Bumper and was only beaten just over 4L when 6th to On The Fringe in last year’s race. That was clearly a very good effort, but I just wonder if he was one of the suspect stayers to run well because of the way the race was run. Following the Cheltenham run he was a well beaten 7th to On The Fringe at Punchestown. This time around his season has been based on the Foxhunter. He was beaten in a point on February 11th and then bolted up at Fairyhouse on Saturday over 2m5f albeit it wasn’t a very strong hunter chase. That should have put him spot on for Cheltenham, but I still have my stamina concerns about him and although I can see him running well I don’t really see how he can reverse form with On The Fringe or Paint The Clouds. I suspect he will need a new jockey as well with Jamie Codd riding On The Fringe.
Balnaslow – Beat Foxrock in a point in December, but was a 9L 2nd to him at Down Royal on Boxing Day. Only 5th behind On His Own and 2nd to Home Farm in two starts since and that suggests he won’t be up to winning this. Was 4th in the 2014 Kim Muir.
Barel Of Laughs – A likeable horse who won the first hunter chase of the season at Taunton. Was 2nd over course and distance to Pearlysteps on hunter chase night here last April and as solid a run as that was it backs up the feeling he won’t be good enough to be involved in the finish here.
Black Thunder – Finished 7th behind The Druids Nephew at the 2015 Festival when he actually burst a blood vessel. Didn’t show a great deal after that, but proved himself more than up to hunter chase company when winning a hot race at Kelso. Given the 2 in behind have both won since it was a surprise he was beaten by Premier Portrait back at Kelso a couple of weeks ago. Now Premier Portrait is a decent pointer and is a horse I can see running a solid race in the Foxhunter, but even so it was disappointing he had little in the tank on the run-in. The closeness of the 3rd Wicklow Lad does little for the form either especially as that one was disappointing at Carlisle next time. Given his Dad owns it Sam Waley-Cohen has to ride him over Paint The Clouds, but I certainly think he is on the wrong horse.
Buckers Bridge – Well beaten 12th at last year’s Festival behind Empire Of Dirt and was 11th in the 2014 Grand National. Won a couple of open’s in Ireland including last time out, but overall form this season leaves him with something to find including 3rd in a Down Royal hunter chase to Foxrock.
Cottage Oak – Won his last two in points including on Sunday, but has no chance here.
Current Event – Was one of those non-stayers to benefit from the slower pace last year when finishing a close 4th. Was 4th at Aintree as well although beaten 25L then and he proved yet again he doesn’t stay this trip when a 35L to Pearlysteps over this course and distance on hunter chase night. Not run yet this season and his 3 riders to ride him in hunter chases are all booked on other mounts so it will be interesting to see who takes the ride this time around.
Dolatulo – Thought he benefitted from Grand Vision and Black Thunder racing from a long way out at Kelso and was possibly slightly flattered by that effort even though he should have won the race. Ran poorly at Warwick where the race came too soon after Kelso, but was back to form when bolting up Ffos Las in the Welsh Foxhunter. His jockey is very inexperienced and he wonders if he is ready for such a test as this. Has run at the last 3 Festivals and been well beaten on each occasion albeit he was a big price each time.
Grand Jesture – Given he has refused to race on his last three Rules starts he looks to be a pretty risky betting proposition. Has won a couple of Opens in Ireland this season, but was beaten at 1/2 on February 19th. The ability is there as he proves when 2nd to The Druids Nephew in the 2015 Festival, but he wouldn’t be for me given the large risk of him not starting.
Grand Vision – Was 4th in the 2015 Kim Muir and I thought he ran a really good race on his first run since when 3rd at Kelso, given how keen he was and he race Black Thunder from a long way out. Backed that up with a dominant performance at Warwick when beating Pearlysteps and then qualified for this when 2nd to Pacha Du Polder at Bangor over 2m4f. I suspect he can reverse that form over this trip and should be capable of running a good race. Was also 3rd to Brindisi Breeze in the 2012 Albert Barlett.
Lets Get Serious – Wouldn’t even win if he started now.
Mendip Express – 8th in this last year and then 3rd at Aintree and Punchestown. Was beaten at 2/9 on his seasonal debut at Ludlow last month, but Mr Mercurial is a good horse on his day and he should come on for that run. Even so it is hard to see how he can reverse form with On The Fringe and at most he has a place chance.
Minella For Value – Refused when returning to pointing in Ireland this season, but has won three of his next four including beating First Lieutenant. The other time he was 2nd to Sweet As A Nut though and I looks to have a fair bit to find based on that.
On The Fringe – One of the best (if not the best) hunter chasers we have ever seen and it was a fantastic achievement to land the treble for the 2nd time last season. No doubt will be bidding to land the treble treble this season and he proved at Leopardstown last time that he is in great form. He jumped really well and was just beaten by the match fit Foxrock. That was a big improvement from his run in that Leopardstown race last year and that can only bode well for his bid to land the hat-trick. I thought last year that the ride Nina gave him got him out of jail as I don’t think he was at his best, but that Leopardstown run suggests he is further forward this season. He sets a very tough standard for the newcomers to aim at. I am sure some of you reading this will have purchased the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide and ATR’s Kevin Blake has written a few banker or busts for the 4 days and one of his busts was On The Fringe. The main reason for this was because he feels the demands of this race don’t suit him. 2 years ago I pretty much wrote that and I think I may have even said they shouldn’t bother running him in this race and just focus on the Aintree version. Fortunately for me he still won at Aintree, but he bolted up at Cheltenham first. Now the soft ground was against Paint The Clouds and past him it wasn’t a strong race, so I can sort of see Kevin’s point about maybe that run isn’t as good as it looks visually. It is also true when Kevin points out he went on to produce better efforts last season than he did in this which he also did the other two times he has run at Cheltenham. However I think he has missed a crucial factor about the horse last season. He was injured which held him up and that clearly showed when he ran so poorly at Leopardstown. I think they were always playing catch up with him after that and he still wasn’t at his peak come March. As I mention above this year his run at Leopardstown proves he is much further forward and I would imagine he is ready to peak this time around.
Pacha Du Polder – Was obviously the talking horse of last year’s race when flying up the hill to finish 5th under Victoria Pendleton. Bryony Frost is set to take the ride this time around and his win at Bangor when beaten Grand Vision showed he is back in good form this season. I think he was flattered by last year’s run though because he had his stamina protected and they went a slow pace so it wasn’t a test of stamina. Was 3rd behind Paint The Clouds at Stratford and I don’t see how he can reverse form with him let alone win.
Paint The Clouds – Won the same Doncaster race for the 3rd year running last month and it was a good effort as including jockey’s claims he was giving 13lbs to the 2nd Ardea who is a decent hunter chaser in his own right. That effort should put him spot on for Cheltenham. The slow pace was against him last year and he just got going too late to overhaul Marito and On The Fringe on the run-in. The year before when he was also 3rd the ground went against him and if he gets decent ground and a fast pace he will have a major say yet again. Won the big race at Stratford for the 2nd time last year under Barry O’Neill who picks up the spare ride again here. As good as Sam is, I thought Barry gave him a hell of a ride to win that night and I think it is big plus to his chances that Barry is on again. That effort proved he was the best hunter chaser from these shores and he should be capable of going close once more.
Pentiffic – Won the Grand National Chase when he was trained in Australia and has won 3 hunter chases since turning to them in 2014. Usually runs on when the race is over, but ran as well as could be expected when 2nd to Wonderful Charm in the Walrus last time. Probably capable of a mid field finish if he were to take his chance as he will keep going when others have cried enough.
Premier Portrait – Has been a winning machine in points over the last two years and caused a massive upset when beating the 1/8 Black Thunder at Kelso last time. I certainly think this test will suit as he can get himself outpaced, but as he showed when 3rd at Horseheath the time before as well as at Kelso, he can finish his races off well. The suspicion is though that Black Thunder underperformed and given Wicklow Lad, who finished a close 3rd, ran poorly at Carlisle last week that also puts a question mark over the form. What I can imagine happening though is him getting out paced and then staying on past beaten horses and as much as it probably won’t see him hitting the frame it should be enough for a top 10 finish.
Salsify – He looked along way below his best on his seasonal return at Thurles when falling heavily behind Foxrock. He ran much better behind the same horse at Leopardstown last time though which was good to see. Even so it is hard to see him adding to his two wins in the race on the form he has shown in the last couple of years.
Sweet As A Nut – Has even less experience than Ask The Weatherman having only had the 7 starts. He started off his season early when winning a winners of 2 race at Castletown, before running out on his next start. He was then 3rd in his first start in open company Dromahane behind Sydney Paget in November. He made his hunter chase debut over Christmas at Limerick and he couldn’t have been more impressive when bolting up by 15L although it was a pretty weak contest. He qualified for this when winning an open at Tallowlast month. Does look progressive, but he is going to have to improve a lot to win this. Would be some feat to win this as well given he only made his debut in December 2015 although the vibes have been fairly strong regarding his chances from the Irish.
Warden Hill – Fairly useful under Rules for Mick Channon and didn’t run too badly when 3rd over course and distance last April off 137. He fell on his pointing debut in December, but then won well in January before finishing 2nd at Fakenham to Carlton Ryan. He did get hampered at the last although it is unlikely he would have won and he will struggle here.
Wonderful Charm – Won a couple of Grade 2 chases in the past and currently has a BHA rating of 153. Has not had to be extended to win the Scottish Foxhunter at Musselburgh and The Walrus at Haydock and the win there means he has a chance of going for a £10k bonus. Beating Carlton Ryan as easily as he did was a superb effort as he is a useful hunter chaser himself. The problem I have is that Paul Nicholls has come out and said that the horse has had a few wind ops and that he still has an issue with his wind. He wears a tongue-tie in his races which backs that point up. Winning a Cheltenham Foxhunter is very different from beating lesser rivals on the bridle on a flat track and I just wonder how much he is going to find once he comes off the bridle. I’d be surprised if he can win this on the bridle and if his wind becomes an issue under pressure then he looks opposable to me. Katie Walsh is a decent jockey booking although she said her best bet of the meeting was On The Fringe at a recent Festival preview night. To put his hunter chase runs into context he has been given a loose-leaf (the pointing and hunter chase formbook) rating of 11-6 which is 1lb higher than Marito and Paint The Clouds achieved last season and 5lbs below On The Fringe. The final point to make is I have seen one tipster state that Wonderful Charm is well in with On The Fringe based on BHA ratings. However BHA ratings aren’t really worth looking at when it comes to hunter chases. If Wonderful Charm was capable of winning a handicap off 153 he would not be running in this and in my view he certainly isn’t any better than Foxrock and given I think a race fit On The Fringe would be capable of beating Foxrock, I think he can beat Wonderful Charm here.
There seem to be vibes in Ireland for the chances of Sweet As A Nut and Aupcharlie but neither massively appeal to me. The former is clearly progressive, but has to improve a fair bit on what he has shown us so far. Aupcharlie has been trained with this race in mind, but I can’t help thinking he was a bit flattered by his 6th in this last year as he benefitted by the slower than normal pace and I think he might struggle to stay in a truly run race. Wonderful Charm is respected and if his wind doesn’t stop him then he has the class to go close, but his wind issues are enough to put me off him. I backed Ask The Weatherman prior to the Wincanton run and was very pleased after the race, but it does concern me Rebel Rebellion wasn’t for whatever reason able to boost the form at Leicester. Even so I think he looks like a horse with a lot of potential and I can easily see him turning into a National type next season. He is proven on any ground so he won’t mind what the weather does and I believe he has the ability to go close. The one horse who I think is overpriced is Paint The Clouds as granted good ground he shouldn’t be a double figure price. He has been 3rd in the last two runnings and it is easy to see him hitting the frame again at the very least. I do however think On The Fringe is going to be very tough to beat. He is clearly further forward than last season and I suspect he can put in a better performance than he did in this race last year. If he does than it is hard to see him getting beat. His price is obviously reflective of his chances though, but as I suspected his price has gone back out a bit already and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets even bigger on Friday morning as the bookies start competing for business.
1st On The Fringe
2nd Paint The Clouds
3rd Ask The Weatherman