Our Point To Point/Hunter Chase friend, Darran Pearce, returns to preview Aintree’s Foxhunters’ Chase.
Over to Darran…
Things didn’t quite go to plan at Cheltenham with Pacha Du Polder surprising me by actually being able to stay in a truly run race. We move on to the 2nd Foxhunters’ of the season and the first two from Cheltenham do battle once more. I’m going to take my chances though with a couple at double figure odds.
Balnaslow – Certainly out ran his 40/1 odds at Cheltenham when a 3L 5th to Pacha Du Polder. That was a cracking run though given he made the running and he started racing with Paint The Clouds from early enough. He also made a mistake at the last which cost him. That effort was clearly much more like the efforts he showed when beating Foxrock in a point in December and then finishing 2nd to him at Down Royal on Boxing Day. This shorter trip could suit him better and if he can repeat the Cheltenham effort there is no reason why he can’t run another huge race from the front.
Bear’s Affair – A decent horse when trained by Nicky Henderson and his last win came over the Mildmay course in May 2015 off 145 a race he was winning for the 2nd time. He also wasn’t beaten far in that year’s Coral Cup when 7th. Has run a couple of solid enough races in hunter chases so far. He was a 13L 2nd to Persian Snow at Ludlow when probably needing the run and then was 3rd to Wonderful Charm in the Walrus at Haydock. That day he was racing a long way out with Pearlysteps and I think he paid for that effort late on. Given the same connections had an 100/1 3rd at Cheltenham I certainly wouldn’t want to be ruling him out and there is every chance he can improve on the two runs this season.
Big Fella Thanks – Been placed in a Grand National before and been a very good schoolmaster for Noel George winning a couple of hunter chases last year. Was only 8th in this in 2015 and I would be surprised if he could build on that based on what he has done this season.
Black Thunder – Won a good hunter chase at Kelso in January, but hasn’t been as good since. Was beaten at 1/8 back at Kelso by Premier Portrait and then never got involved when pulling up at Cheltenham. Didn’t really get involved when pulling up in last year’s National either. On the back of the Kelso win he would have a chance, but has a few questions to answer now for me.
Broken Eagle – If ever there was a horse tailor made for this test it is him. He was a much improved horse last season and was dominate in every point he ran in. I saw in the flesh at Higham last January when he ended up beating Decade Player by 30L and I knew I was watching a classy animal as he did it so easily in a very quick time. He certainly hasn’t beaten anything of the quality that will be lining up here, but he could hardly be doing it any easier and the fact the clock backs up the efforts then you really have to take notice. He ran in a couple of hunter chases last season when 2nd over 2m at Cheltenham, before finishing 4th in the John Corbet Cup at Stratford. I thought he was given a poor ride at Cheltenham and was for me the best horse in the race. At Stratford he had as about as much chance of staying the trip as I do of winning the lottery and in the circumstances ran a very good race. I’m certain he is much better than those two efforts showed and his pointing wins have been focused on flat tracks and venues that are shorter than 3m so this test should be ideal for him. This season he has hacked up in a couple of points before having a walkover at Ampton last time. Decent ground is a must and if he gets it I think he is capable of running a huge race.
Damiens Dilemma – Won a point on his seasonal debut, but a well beaten 6th behind Wonderful Charm at Musselburgh and Haydock. Only 3rd in a point last month and has no chance here. I would go back handicapping with him given he is only 1lbs higher than the mark he won off at Hexham in June.
Darwins Fox – Got tired at Musselburgh after he and Decade Player cut each others throats and he won impressively at Leicester on his next start. Clearly retains a fair bit of ability and a decent jockey booking as well.
Decade Player – Impressive from the front to win a couple of hunter chases at Wetherby and Stratford last May and then suffered when getting taken on for the lead by Darwins Fox at Musselburgh last month when he ended up having to pull up. Got his confidence back in winning at High Easter last month, but that was over 2m4f and I think that was as far as he wants to go.
Dineur – A surprising 2nd to On The Fringe in this last year which was a really good effort. Ended up winning at Worcester in June off a mark of 130. Ran a nice little prep for this when 2nd to Vasco Du Mee in the Chepstow mud last month. He was beaten 14L but his jockey wasn’t over hard on him. It is hard to see him going one better, but at the same time I can see him running another good race and I wouldn’t put people off backing him each-way at all based on last year’s effort.
Distime –Just got himself qualified at Ludlow in February when a remote 3rd behind Persian Snow and Bear’s Affair. This will no doubt have been the target given he was 3rd in last season’s Grand Sefton and 4th in last year’s Topham. Place chances on those efforts, but will need to come on a ton for the Ludlow run which was pretty bad. Katie Walsh an interesting jockey booking though.
Fitz Volante – Will be massively outclassed here.
Flash Garden – On had the 6 runs and has won the 4 points he has run in and finished 2nd in both hunter chases. Ran perfectly respectably when 2nd to Knocklong at Catterick after a year off, but although he is clearly unexposed it is hard to see him being good enough to be troubling the best of these.
Loch Ba – Has bolted up in his last two hunter chases at Wincanton and Carlisle having been badly hampered at the first on his seasonal return and then being in need of the run at Chaddesley Corbett when 2nd. He beat very little, especially at Wincanton, in those two wins, but he could hardly have done it any easier. He also he clocked a good time at Wincanton so it was obviously a decent effort. Looks sure to give his jockey a great experience out in front and a bold showing wouldn’t surprise.
Mendip Express – 3rd in this last year, but never really looked like winning. Was beaten by Mr Mercurial at 2/9 at Ludlow on his return and was 9th at Cheltenham beaten 22L by Pacha Du Polder. On the basis of those two runs you would be hard pressed to think he could equal that 3rd of last year let alone beat it.
Moscow Chancer – Well beaten at Ludlow on his return after nearly 2 years off and certainly better than that although not good enough for this.
Mr Mercurial – Impressed me enough on his seasonal return last year at Horseheath to fancy him for Cheltenham where he ran OK to finish a 27L 12th to On The Fringe. He then ran no sort of race Southwell, before finishing a creditable 4thin the Stratford Foxhunters. I thought it was a decent effort to beat Mendip Express first time up and at only 9 there is still some scope for more improvement to come. He does stay further, but it could be that this sort of trip suits him best and a bold showing wouldn’t surprise. Will Biddick keeps the ride after winning on him at Ludlow.
Mr Moss – Has no chance here.
Never Complain – Was beaten a distance by Broken Eagle at Higham a year ago and although he dead heated for first in a point in February, that Higham effort tells you he has plenty to find.
On The Fringe – I thought Jamie overdid the holdup tactics at Cheltenham. There was no reason for him to be so far back especially bearing in mind he was behind so many horses who weren’t really good enough to be in the race. I’m sure he would ride the race differently if given a chance. Ultimately though he still ran a solid race as he was only beaten 2 and a half lengths back in 4th and if he hadn’t made an error at the 2nd last he would have been a bit closer. I’m sure Jamie will sit much closer on him this year just as he did in this race last season. I also just wonder if he found the ground a bit too fast for his liking as although it was the same as when he won the year before, he did off course make hard work of it that day. He is sure to go close, but he has been priced up tight enough in my view.
Pacha Du Polder – Fair play I got him wrong at Cheltenham as I didn’t think he would stay in a truly run race, but he was given a great ride where it was more beneficial to be handy than held up. He was also the pick of a lot of non hunter chase followers as they were only looking at his run at Cheltenham the year before and the fact Victoria Pendleton wasn’t on him, whereas anything he had done since and before suggested he couldn’t win a Cheltenham Foxhunter. This should be a race much more to his liking and he finished 2nd to On The Fringe in 2015. Last year though he was only a 60L 6th and he finished a very tired horse. Indeed that was by far and away his worse run since the 2013 Topham. Given his 2015 run I certainly don’t think the course is to blame and for whatever reason he just ran below par last year. I’m surprised he isn’t a bit closer to On The Fringe in the betting although I do think On The Fringe can reverse the form.
Poole Master – Has done well since going hunter chasing this season. First up he ran really well at Warwick when 5th behind Grand Vision when he didn’t stay the 3m trip. He turned for home looking like he might well win before fading late on. Then at Bangor his jockey said afterwards that he didn’t seem to fancy it much after he jumped into Pacha Du Polder and in the end was only 4th behind him. Back at Warwick last month he was really impressive in beating Mon Parrain. He has run round the Grand National course 5 times in the past and he won the Grand Sefton in 2014 although the other 4 times he didn’t really show a great deal. He jumps really well and fancies it then I can see him running a good race, but the concern has to be that he runs like he did at Bangor especially in a race like this.
Premier Portrait – Only 18th at Cheltenham following the Kelso win over Black Thunder. Given his running style he will get out paced round here and although I am sure he will get round it will be in his own time.
Rebel Rebellion – Pulled up in the 2015 Grand National and was coming off a near 2 year layoff when a solid enough 2nd to Ask The Weatherman at Wincanton. It is hard to know what happened at Leicester last time behind Galway Jack, but it was surely too bad to be true as he was never really travelling and was well beaten in the end. Was actually 4th behind Poole Master in the 2014 Grand Sefton having won it the year before. You have to take a fair bit on trust with him given the last time out run and the percentage call has to be to oppose.
Richmond – Usually hits the frame in hunter chases, but at a lesser level to this and was a fairly well beaten 3rd at Chepstow last month. Unseated when tailed off in this last year.
Sam Cavallaro – Fell at the 6th in this last year and I would say his whole campaign is working towards landing a hat-trick in the 2m contest at Cheltenham’s hunter chase night. Been well behind Persian Snow in both starts this season.
Sizing Solution – Wasn’t anything special when running in handicaps and his first hunter chase run when a 17L 3rd behind Aupcharlie at Fairyhouse suggests he has plenty to find.
Tony Star – Needs better ground than he has had in the two hunter chases he has run in at Wincanton and Ffos Las this season, but was a 13L 3rd in a point at Howick last month on better ground and likely to struggle here.
Top Cat Henry – Ran pretty well in last year’s Topham when finishing 6th and has done well since moving to this yard. First up he was 2nd in a point to a decent horse in Cave Hunter and then he found the trip too far at Musselburgh when a well beaten 5th. Back over a more suitable trip back there last month he was quite impressive in scoring by 8L. This will be much harder, but I can see him running a decent enough race.
Vincitore – Won on his debut for new connections at Barbury in January and was a bit of an eye-catcher at Leicester last time when 4th behind Galway Jack. I think he could win another hunter chase at the right level, but this is far from being the right level.
I think this is a lot more open than the betting suggests. Obviously On The Fringe and Pacha Du Polder have great claims and one of them might well win, but they are tight enough in the betting for me. Balnaslow also has a chance on his Cheltenham run although there is potential for a few challengers for the lead on this occasion. Bear’s Affair can showed improved form, Dineur ran a perfectly good prep for this at Ffos Las and Poole Master can go well also. I am going to take two against the field though. Broken Eagle has been my long term fancy for this and hopefully the ground has dried out enough for him to run a big race. This test is set to suit him right down to the ground and he has looked a very classy horse in his pointing wins. He should show a massive step up from his hunter chase runs to date where there were plausible excuses for his runs. The other horse I am going to put up is Mr Mercurial. Last season didn’t quite go to plan after his Horseheath win, but it was a very good effort at Ludlow and if he is back to his best I think he has the ability to play a part here. Those more cautious punters might look to back them in the betting without markets which will be available in the morning. At really big prices I can see Darwins Fox and Top Cat Henry out running their odds.
Broken Eagle 1pt e/w
Mr Mercurial 1pt e/w