Darran

Hunter Chase - 3.25 Taunton

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The Hunter Chase season starts at Taunton on Wednesday and it features something I think we will see a few times this season, an odds on Maxwell favourite. The horse on this occasion is one of his new buys Shantou Flyer and he is already near the head of the market for the Foxhunters in March. On the face of it he looks a really good purchase with that race in mind. He has a fantastic record at Cheltenham and was beaten a neck by Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima at last year's Festival. He then ran in the Grand National after that where he pulled up, but he only went off a 20/1 shot. He is currently rated 157 and given he is a 9yo you would imagine that there won't be too much if any regression, indeed on Racing Post Ratings that Cheltenham run is his best ever. His recent runs have been on testing ground, but he has won on good ground before so that wont be an issue. In past years you could have said the jockey was a negative, but he was much improved for me last season and whilst he is never going to be a Derek O'Connor, he is certainly useful enough. The fact he is riding more than ever has helped as is the fact he is not getting coaching. The horse has also had a wind op since the National. It goes without saying that he ought to win this fairly comfortably especially if he is to be a Cheltenham contender.

There was some early support for Bayley's Dream who is now clear 2nd favourite. His first season pointing was mainly a disappointment although he did win once, but he has really turned a corner since. Last season he won 5 out of 6 and then on his seasonal debut he won at Clifton last month. He might have been slightly lucky to win as the saddle slipped after the last on the 2nd Petrou and he was only a head behind at the line. The form is solid enough as Petrou has since finished 2nd (albeit a well beaten one) behind Hazel Hill and Warden Hill was back in 4th although he is likely to have needed the run. That was his first win in Open company as he was winning conditions races last season which were weaker. He would be a handicap good thing off 94 and he should be capable of winning a hunter chase, but in my view he would need the favourite to under perform massively to beat him.

Sadler's Risk hasn't seen a racecourse all that often since he last won a race which just happens to have been a Grade 3 at Punchestown in October 2016. That got him up to a mark 154 and his highest RPR was 156 so at his peak he was very close to the favourite. The problem is he hasn't really run a good race since and pulled up on all 3 starts for Tom George last year. This will be the trainer's 2nd ever runner with his 1st being a winner at Larkhill on Sunday. It is hard to know really to expect as the trainer clearly knows what he is doing, but the percentage call has to be to take him on.

Joe O'Shea is a canny trainer and he has already campaigned Road To Rome very well this season having already ticked off a maiden, a restricted and a intermediate in less than a month. The maiden win came on the first day of the season when he clocked a time that was quicker than the restricted and the intermediate. Indeed he was only 4 seconds slower than the mixed open and they carried 7lbs less. He won his restricted a week later but that was only a match. He then went on to win his intermediate on the same Clifton card that Bayley's Dream won on. He and the 2nd, Mister Robbo went toe to toe for pretty much the whole way. He was headed in the home straight, but he fought back well to get back up. Every chance they are both nice horses and they clocked a time nearly 10 seconds quicker than Bayley's Dream, who carried 5lbs more. He jumped right that day and although his other two wins were also on left handed tracks I get the feeling he will be better going this way round. I think he has certainly improved since he was last seen under Rules in May.

Newsworthy makes his debut for new connections, but he didn't really show a great deal in final few starts in Ireland and although he is rated 125 he doesn't make a huge amount of appeal in a race like this.

Financial Climate has a higher pointing rating than Bayley's Dream based on his win at Alnwick last month. I'm not sure that rating is fully justified as that Mens Open wasn't overly strong with the 2nd a pretty exposed Irish handicapper prior to that race. Boher Call and Western Dream both have plenty to find and should be outclassed.

Maxwell has had the favourite for this the last two years and neither won, but it is hard to see how Shantou Flyer doesn't win this given he has a fair bit in hand on ratings and he shouldn't really have regressed all that much if at all. He needs to finish 1st or 2nd to get a step closer to qualifying for Cheltenham so he should be pretty straight so a run isn't wasted. I'm not sure there is much value in putting anything up e/w as a non-runner would mean we are down to 7 and chances are the win part of the bet would be lost anyway. Thus I am going to put up a forecast play. Road To Rome has improved plenty for his new trainer and I think he is capable of being 2nd to the favourite so that is the main play with a saver on Bayley's Dream.

Shantou Flyer to beat Road To Rome 1.5pts f/c

Shantou Flyer to beat Bayley's Dream 0.5pts f/c

Edited by Darran

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Slightly annoyingly after the fav came out it means that the bets get settled at SP so with the gamble on the winner it meant we only got 13/8 on a horse who was around 5/2 when Shantou Flyer came out. Still it won and that is the important thing and gets us off to a winning start for the season. Road To Rome was very impressive and as mentioned in the preview his shrewd trainer has clearly improved him. It looked like he was going to get taken on for the lead in the early stages, but he burnt them all off and he never really looked in any danger. Going forwards his jumping wasn't always the best and although he never looked like falling it would be a concern around Cheltenham, where he looks set to end up in May on Hunter Chase night and I imagine the Intermediate Final will be the target.

His trainer reckons he would have beaten Shantou Flyer, but I really do struggle to see how he could have beaten a horse rated 157 who was a close 2nd in one of the most competitive handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival less than a year ago all things being equal. He would have had to run at least 2 stone below his rating to have been beaten here. I am guessing we will see him soon enough as they won't want to wait to long to get the first qualifying run in.

In the end Newsworthy got up to get 2nd and he could be up to winning one of these. He travelled through the race well and looked like he would be the main challenger to the winner. The problem was his jumping got in the way. I can't believe the in running comment doesn't mention the stumble on landing he made after one of the fences. Up until that point he had jumped well, but that error seemed to ruin his confidence and he was losing ground at most fences after that. Fair play to the horse though to stay on well having initially dropped a fair way behind the 3rd. If his jumping is better next time then in the right race he would be well worth considering. 

I suspect Bayley's Dream probably paid for trying to go with the winner as he got very tired late on meaning he lost 2nd on the line. He ran well though and he isn't always going to bump into a horse as good as the winner. Financial Climate stayed on strongly as well to finish with the 2nd and 3rd. I'm guessing he might turn up in the Military races at Sandown.

Sadler's Risk ran a stinker and after making a mistake he just didn't fancy it at all. Given that makes it 4 P's on the bounce he is impossible to want to back next time out.

So a good start and I will be back for the next Hunter Chase a week on Thursday at Ludlow.

 

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