Published 2 March
The St. James's Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase market is one that often receives very little attention during the season. At the start of the campaign, highly rated horses that are going hunter chasing for the first time tend to be put at the head of the market and market moves until the entry stage usually only occur as a result of performances under rules, while horses that have no chance of qualifying are regularly left in the market until that time.
There are 34 entries for this season’s Foxhunter (Gwencily Berbas was the 35th but isn’t qualified) and currently heading the market is the Enda Bolger-trained Stand Up And Fight. He got off the mark for the season with a comfortable victory in an Open at Dromahane before winning a hunter chase at Down Royal in similar fashion.
He’s since been beaten by Fenno’s Storm in an Open at Kilfeacle when Stand Up And Fight jumped to the front two out before Fenno’s Storm battled back and looked to outstay his rival. The extra distance in the Foxhunter is a concern for him after that performance and it is a bit worrying that having travelled so well at Down Royal, he didn’t stretch away as might have been expected.
I would also question the strength of his form this season. His Dromahane win is good form but far from top quality in this sphere with the runner up since being beaten 14 lengths in a maiden hunter chase. The same applies to his win at Down Royal when runner up, Sizing Coal, was carrying a 7lb penalty and had been beaten 45 lengths in the Champion Hunter at Punchestown last season.
Stand Up And Fight might well have more to offer but I think his current top price of 4-1 is due to his connections rather than what he’s achieved this season so I can leave him alone at those odds.
Ucello Conti, Hazel Hill and Road To Rome are closely grouped just behind him in the market. Ucello Conti is unbeaten this season having won an Open and two hunter chases. He clung on from Sydney Paget at Aghabullogue on his first run since unseating his rider in the Grand National last year. I think he would have still won at Thurles even if Gwencily Berbas hadn’t unseated at the last but he made hard work of that and the runner up, Samanntom, is 100-1 for the Foxhunter.
At Navan last time, his main rival severely underperformed which left Coastal Tiep and a fourteen-year-old Salsify to be his main challengers and once again he made quite hard work of it. It’s possible that he’s the type that only does what’s necessary and will step up when faced with tougher company, but I couldn’t suggest there’s any edge with the current 6-1 available based on what he’s achieved this season.
Hazel Hill is lightly rated for an evelen-year-old with the Foxhunter set to be the 20th start of his career. Since coming to Britain, he’s only been beaten once in 15 starts, the defeat coming at Sandon last season at 2-11. He won easily on his first start of this season at Chaddesley Corbett and followed that with an impressive victory at Warwick on his most recent outing carrying an 8lb penalty. There were a few disappointments in the race, notably Shantou Flyer and Cousin Pete, but it was still a good performance given the penalty.
Immediately after the race he was quoted at 25-1 by one bookmaker, which duly lasted about 30 minutes, and he’s now a best priced 7-1. Despite winning at Warwick I still have a slight concern about him running left handed as he jumped out to the right a little in that race, which is something that he’s done before.
He has a good chance in the Foxhunter but I think the market now reflects this.
Road To Rome has been the big story of the British pointing season so far. He started off in a maiden at Buckfastleigh on the opening day of the season and has now reeled off seven wins in succession, once again showing off the talents of his trainer Joe O’Shea who has a 32% strike rate in point to points and 21% in hunter chases since the start of the 2011/12 season.
Road To Rome’s last four wins have come in hunter chases, with three of those victories coming in races where his main rivals either underperformed or were lacking it fitness. He was impressive at Taunton, where he was a standout in the paddock beforehand while one of his main rivals on form looked badly in need of the run and ran accordingly.
On his following run at Ludlow, he went to the front at an early stage and never surrendered the lead from that point, coming home 5 lengths in front of Beeves who wasn’t jumping well or travelling from a very early stage while a few of those having their first start in a hunter chase ran well below their rating.
I think his chance is currently being underestimated by the market. In the last two years he’s been sent off at 7-2 and 11-2 in the Foxhunter yet he’s currently available at 16-1
He won again over the same course and distance just under three weeks later where the 2¼ lengths margin of victory underplays his superiority as he appeared to be idling up the straight.
On his most recent outing at Haydock, he had no pressure for the lead and was never headed, eventually finishing 34 lengths clear of Sybarite despite appearing to idle late on while his 2 main dangers ran a long way below their best, with Ballotin clearly not staying the trip and Pacha Du Polder not going with much zest from an early stage.
The 20-1 available before that race became 7-1 afterwards and that remains the top price available. While he has looked very good this season there are a couple of concerns. He’s very likely to have far more pressure for the lead in the Foxhunter than he has done in these hunter chases due to the presence of Shantou Flyer and Top Wood. He’s also prone to getting low at the fences and the combination of that and the quicker pace at Cheltenham could be more damaging to his chance that it has been so far.
He clearly has a good chance, particularly if the thought about him idling is correct as he could have far more to offer, but those concerns make me think the current price doesn’t underestimate his chance.
It is one of the other hunter chase winners this season that is the first of two selections for the race at this stage. WONDERFUL CHARM returned off a 257-day break to win in facile fashion at Doncaster by 55 lengths. Although he may have been left with little to beat due to Forgotten Gold running nowhere near his official rating, Wonderful Charm put up a good performance on the clock for a hunter chaser.
From the final fence with a circuit to go until the final fence of the race he was 12 lengths slower than the 133-rated Looking Well, who won the previous chase over 2f shorter, while carrying a stone more and Sam Waley-Cohen not asking him for any effort (Wonderful Charm was heavily eased after the last, hence why the final fence rather than the finish was used for comparison).
If he can repeat the level of ability he showed in that race in the Foxhunter then he has a good chance but there are a couple of concerns. He isn’t completely straightforward, as highlighted by the run at Stratford last year, so he could throw in a below par performance and soft ground would be a worry although that doesn’t look likely at this time.
However, I think his chance is currently being underestimated by the market. In the last two years he’s been sent off at 7-2 and 11-2 in the Foxhunter yet he’s currently available at 16-1 despite having put up a performance at Doncaster that is right up there with the best hunter chase performances this season and in a renewal that looks no better than either of the last two.
The second selection also has a Ditcheat link, as CAID DU BERLAIS is trained by Rose Loxton who works for Paul Nicholls. Caid Du Berlais had a fruitful first campaign in the point to point/hunter chase sphere last season, winning three Opens and a hunter chase from five starts.
That hunter chase was the Champion Hunters Chase at Punchestown where Caid Du Berlais was in a different league to his rivals. Having jumped well throughout, he was still tanking along when he jumped to the front at four out. It looked like On The Fringe might be a danger to him at three out but as soon as Will Biddick gave Caid Du Berlais the merest encouragement he quickly shot clear of that rival and having been pushed out on the run in, finished 21 lengths clear of Timewaitsfornoone, a margin that could have been further had Biddick wished.
Prior to that race, Caid Du Berlais finished 5th in the Cheltenham Foxhunter when the race didn’t go to plan. Having looked to set off in mid division he was shuffled back slightly between the first two fences and a bad mistake at the 2nd fence left him in fourth last. He gradually made headway on the final circuit and ended up almost being upsides the leader just after the last before finishing 5th.
His preparation for this season’s race may not have gone to plan with the cold snap and equine flu shutting down racing meaning that he didn’t run at Wincanton or Milborne St Andrew in late January/early February but he holds an entry in the Mixed Open at Bishops Court on Sunday.
Considering the quality of his performance at Punchestown it’s surprising that he’s available at 20-1 and while other horses have been coming out and winning, his lack of a run so far this season has resulted in him being overlooked in the market.